A Trident II D5 missile is launched from a submarine in 2014. Navy photo

Testing a missile without issuing broad prior notice — as was done Saturday night, giving rise to widespread fears of a UFO — is essential for national security, a military expert said in remarks published Tuesday.

On the one hand, the military needs to give local aviation officials enough information as to the time and place of an upcoming test to ensure no planes are in the area, Loren Thompson, a military analyst with the Lexington Institute, a public policy think tank headquartered in Arlington, Virginia, told the Los Angeles Times.

But at the same time, the military is determined to keep tests shrouded in secrecy in order to thwart any efforts by potential adversaries — namely Russia and China — to monitor the missile launch and flight, he said.

Cellphone photo of the missile sent by reader Jacquelyn Najera.

The confusion and social media uproar that erupted Saturday night as a mysterious white cone of light coursed across the night sky is an unfortunate but necessary tradeoff, Thompson told the Times.

The need for secrecy was all the more important given the type of weapon the Navy launched Saturday from the submarine USS Kentucky off Point Mugu, according to Thompson. The Trident II missile is a centerpiece of the U.S. military’s ability to deter a nuclear attack, and modernizing the weapon is a top priority, he said.

The intercontinental-range missiles normally carry eight independently targeted nuclear warheads. The Navy operates a fleet of 14 ballistic-missile submarines that each carry 24 of the missiles. A number of the submarines are always at sea and ready to fire their missiles.

Knowing in advance that a Trident was going to be tested would give prying eyes, for example sailors on a Russian submarine in the Pacific, the ability to gather valuable information, Thompson said. Tracking its trajectory, speed, electromagnetic emissions and other characteristics in real time could provide insights into potential vulnerabilities, he said.

“The Russians and Chinese would have great interest in finding ways to defeat this type of missile,” Thompson  said.

City News Service contributed to this article.

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Chris Jennewein

Chris Jennewein is Editor & Publisher of Times of San Diego.