Flashpoints | Security

US Navy Ohio-Class Sub Test Launches Ballistic Missile

The U.S. Navy conducted a ballistic missile test launch from a submerged submarine in the Pacific Ocean on February 12.

Franz-Stefan Gady
US Navy Ohio-Class Sub Test Launches Ballistic Missile

An unarmed Trident II (D5LE) missile launches from the Ohio-class ballistic missile submarine USS Maine (SSBN 741) off the coast of San Diego, California, Feb. 12, 2020.

Credit: U.S. Navy photo

The U.S. Navy conducted a scheduled missile test firing of an unarmed life-extended Trident II (D5) missile from an Ohio-class nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarine (SSBN), the USS Maine (SSBN-741), off the coast of Southern California on February 12. 

According to a U.S. Navy press statement, the launch was part of a so-called Demonstration and Shakedown Operation, designated DASO-30, and aims 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 USS Maine completed a three-year overhaul that included refueling of the boomer’s nuclear reactor at the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard in June 2019. 

“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, on February 12. 

The February 12 launch marked the 177th in the line of successful flights of the Trident II (D5) SLBM. 

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Today’s 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 Navy said in a statement. “The missile test was not conducted in response to any ongoing world events or as a demonstration of power. Test launches – including DASOs – are scheduled years in advance.”

The Navy last conducted four scheduled missile test firings of unarmed Trident II (D5) missiles from the Ohio-class SSBN USS Nebraska (SSBN-739) in September 2019. 

The four test launches were part of a Commander Evaluation Test (CET) with the primary goal of validating performance expectations of the SLBMs. 

A previous DASO test launch of a Trident II (D5) took place in May 2019 when the USS Rhode Island fired an unarmed SLBM from a submerged position off the coast of Florida.

The Trident II D5 is a three-stage, solid propellant ballistic missile with a range of about 4,000 nautical miles or around 7,400 kilometers. The missile is fitted with multiple independently targetable reentry vehicles, each carrying a thermonuclear warhead.

According to the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists: “The Trident D5s carry three types of warheads: the 100-kiloton W76/Mk-4, the 100-kiloton W76-1/Mk-4A, and the 455-kiloton W88/Mk-5 warhead, the highest-yield ballistic missile warhead in the U.S. arsenal.”

The U.S. Navy also fielded a new W76-2 low-yield nuclear warhead, a variant of the standard W76-1 Trident II warhead, on board certain Ohio-class boomers. 

The U.S. Navy currently operates a fleet of 14 Ohio-class SSBNs, each capable of carrying up to 24 Trident II D-5 SLBMs. Beginning in 2031, the Ohio class is slated to be gradually replaced by the new Columbia class. The Navy aims to deploy 12 Columbia-class boomers, designed for a 42-year service life all the way through 2085.