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US Navy tests Trident II from ballistic missile submarine USS Maine

USS Maine Trident launch
An unarmed Trident II (D5LE) missile launches from USS Maine (SSBN 741). Photo: US Navy

Just days after the US Air Force tested a Minuteman III ICBM, the US Navy conducted a scheduled, one-missile test flight of an unarmed life-extended Trident II (D5LE) missile from USS Maine (SSBN-741).

The Ohio-class ballistic missile submarine performed the launch on the Western Test Range off the coast of San Diego, California, on February 12.

This was part of a Demonstration and Shakedown Operation, designated DASO-30. The primary objective of a DASO is to evaluate and demonstrate the readiness of the SSBN’s strategic weapon system and crew before operational deployment following the submarine’s engineered refueling overhaul.

“The professional performance by the crew of the USS Maine today demonstrated they are ready to stand the watch for our nation’s strategic deterrence mission,” said James F. Geurts, assistant secretary of the Navy for research, development and acquisition who embarked USS Maine for the launch.

This launch marks 177 successful missile launches of the Trident II (D5 & D5LE) strategic weapon system (SWS).

“These same teams are now developing the next generation of the Trident strategic weapon system, which will extend our sea-based deterrent for the next 40 years,” Vice Adm. Johnny R. Wolfe, director of the Navy’s Strategic Systems Programs, added.

The Trident II (D5) missiles recently underwent a life extension program to address potential impacts from aging and obsolescence. The life-extended missiles – Trident II (D5LE) – are now being deployed to the fleet and will serve for the remaining service life of US Ohio-class and United Kingdom Vanguard-class SSBNs, and as the initial loadout for the US Columbia-class and UK Dreadnought-class SSBNs.

The Navy’s last DASO was in May 2019 off the coast of Cape Canaveral, Florida, from USS Rhode Island (SSBN-740). The navy’s most recent flight test – a Commander’s Evaluation Test – was a series of four launches from USS Nebraska (SSBN-739) in September 2019 off the coast of Southern California. All five of these 2019 flight tests were of the life-extended Trident II (D5LE).

As pointed out by the navy, flight test missiles are not armed. Additionally, the launch was conducted from sea, the missile flew over the sea, and landed in the sea. At no time did the missile fly over land.

The missile test was not conducted in response to any ongoing world events or as a demonstration of power, it was further said.

SLBMs are the sea-based leg of the nation’s strategic nuclear deterrent Triad that also includes the US Air Force’s intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM) and nuclear-capable bombers. Each part of the triad provides unique capabilities and advantages.

The sea-based leg makes up the majority – approximately 70 percent – of the US deployed strategic nuclear deterrent triad, with the SLBM being the most survivable leg.