Trident II Missile Fails in First Undersea Launch

From News Service

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla., March 21, A $23.7 million Trident 11 missile cartwheeled out of control and exploded today just four seconds after it blasted off on the first undersea test-launch of the Navy's newest, most powerful weapon, the Navy reported.

The crew of the nuclear submarine USS Tennessee launched the intercontinental missile at1:20 a.m. while cruising submerged in the Atlantic Ocean off Cape Canaveral.

The 44-foot Trident II burst to the ocean's surface and its first-stage rocket motor ignited before the malfunction "caused to veer off course and self-destruct after four seconds of flight" a Navy statement said.

Flaming debris from the missile showered into the ocean. The Navy said no damage was done to the submarine or surface ships.

The Navy said divers later recovered the nose section and other wreckage from the destroyed rocket, debris that could aid in the investigation into what went wrong.

The three-stage Trident II can deliver three to 12 warheads with near pinpoint accuracy on individual targets up to 6,000 miles away. The Navy said the test missile carried only an instrumented dummy package.

The failure could delay Navy plans to have the missile ready in time for the Tennessee to carry 24 of the weapons on patrol later this year.

The statement said the cause of the malfunction cannot be determined until the flight data is studied.