CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — A Trident II submarine missile thundered off a land launch pad today on the successful maiden test flight of the Navy's newest, most powerful rocket.
Scores of anti-nuclear protesters watched as the missile, which the Pentagon says will be potent and accurate enough to destroy hardened nuclear missile silos and command centers, vaulted off the land pad and darted across a clear sky, trailing a serpentine plume of smoke from its solid-fuel motors.
Navy spokesman Lt. Cmdr. Bob Pritchard said the missile scored "a complete success" as it hurled a dummy warhead to an Atlantic Ocean target several thousand miles to the southeast.
"It operated as advertised," he said.
Security was extremely tight today, especially in the Trident II launch area.
Not Announced in Advance
The launch was not announced in advance, but anti-nuclear protesters opposed to plans for it began gathering here last weekend. Fifty-five have been arrested on trespassing charges since Friday.
About 75 protesters gathered at the main Cape Canaveral gate this morning, and some tried to block traffic by linking arms in the middle of the road.
When the rocket was launched, a few protesters flung themselves against the fence, beat themselves on the head, cried or fell to the ground while television cameras filmed their reaction.
Two Buddhist monks from Japan, joined by four protesters, beat drums and cymbals while sitting on the road in front of the gate.
Today's test was the first of 20 scheduled from a land pad, with one planned about every 40 days. That will be followed by 10 submarine-launched tests before the missile becomes operational in 1989.
The Trident II is an intercontinental range missile capable of striking targets up to 6,900 miles away. It is much more accurate than its undersea predecessors, Polaris, Poseidon and Trident I, so accurate that the Navy says it can match the targeting ability of land-based missiles even though it is launched from a submerged, moving submarine.
Critics say the Reagan Administration's decision to pursue development of the Trident II will turn the nation's missile submarines into "first strike" weapons, undermining the deterrent balance with the Soviet Union.
The 44-foot-long, 65-ton Trident II can carry up to 10 independently targetable nuclear warheads, two more than the Trident I. Each Trident submarine packs 24 missiles.
Published reports have said each Trident II warhead will have 475 kilotons of power. That is 38 times more powerful than the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima in World War II.