A Trident Submarine-Launched Ballistic Missile Test Has Occurred Over The Atlantic (Updated)

The missile was seen rising into the evening sky off the Florida coast and likely reentered the atmosphere over the South Atlantic.

byTyler Rogoway and Joseph Trevithick|
U.S. Homeland photo


Details remain very limited at this time, but it is clear a Trident submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) test has occurred over the Atlantic ocean. According to a series of notices to airman (NOTAM) about the potential launch activity that were posted in recent days, the missile was launched off the Florida coast and had a reentry area to the east of Ascension Island, with a total downrange travel distance of around 5,200 miles. 

The launch grabbed the attention of Floridians who saw the Trident missile's comet-like trail lit up in the evening sky. These tests are essential to guaranteeing America and Britain's second-strike capability that underpins both country's nuclear deterrents. It is unclear at this time if the launch emanated from a U.S. Navy or U.K. Royal Navy nuclear ballistic missile submarine.

While the Pacific sees far more U.S. ballistic missile test launch activity than the Atlantic, tests over "the pond" aren't all that rare. Most recently, the French executed a test of their M51 SLBM in the Atlantic. 

While we don't know which navy carried out this particular test, based on information from alerts provided to aviators and maritime vessels ahead of time, the missile's intended trajectory appears similar to the planned one from a launch the Royal Navy carried out in the Atlantic in June 2016. That test was a spectacular and controversial failure, with the unarmed missile reportedly flying off course in the complete opposite direction, instead heading toward the United States mainland. Its self-destruct feature was subsequently triggered, safely blowing it up in midair over the water.

We will continue to update this post as soon as new info on the launch comes available.

UPDATE 2/10/21:

So far, there remains no official statement from the U.S. Navy, or any other element of the U.S. military, or the U.K. armed forces, regarding this missile test. The War Zone has reached out to the Navy, but we have not yet received a response.

UPDATE 2/11/21:

The U.S. Navy has confirmed that this was a Trident missile test and that it carried it out. You can read more about what we now know about this test launch in our follow-on story here.

Contact the author: Tyler@thedrive.com