In the nuclear holocaust poker game, 1986 promises to be the year in which America's newest wild card -- the Trident II D5 missile -- ups the ante of annihilation. The weapon, with $7 billion already spent on it as development proceeds at a Lockheed plant in Santa Clara, Calif., isn't a bluff. The submarine-launched missile is to carry eight warheads, each with 40 times the explosive power of the Hiroshima bomb.

The Trident II D5 is meant to replace the Trident I C4. According to Rep. Ted Weiss (D-N.Y.), the C4 can destroy entire cities, submarine ports, airfields, industrial facilities and governmental centers. Although the C4 is only one-fifth as destructive as the D5, the 24 missiles now on each of the Trident I vessels roaming the world's oceans represent "more explosive power on one single submarine than has been expended in the entire history of humanity."

In the coming year, Congress will be voting on whether to keep sinking money into the D5. A bill of about $50 billion will have to be paid over the next 10 years for the more than 950 missiles, with another $50 billion for new submarines. As with sums that have become meaningless, weapons of this diabolic destruction are also unimaginable.

The D5 comes during a lull: The debate over the MX missile has faded and now another wrangle on "Star Wars" has begun. The MX was understandable. It was land-based. When the Mormons of Utah screamed "not here" and when the ranchers of Wyoming and Nebraska said "not here either," the excesses of the Pentagon's arguments were visible. It is like that with Star Wars. Instead of in Utah, the road show now plays in outer space. Everyone can watch.

Compared with that, the D5 is out of sight. The news about the missile is that it is not news. It promises to alter the nuclear balance of power in the next 15 years and be the most expensive weapon system ever built by the United States. It has escaped publicity, as if its R&D engineers designed an device to avoid the public's radar alert for useless weapons.

When the D5 might have been noticed, distractions diverted attention. Last June 19, the House debated an amendment offered by Weiss that would have stopped procurement funds. This was only the third time in four years that the issue had come to the floor. On this day, explosive personalities were what the media chose to look at, not an explosive weapon.

Rep. Robert Dornan (R-Calif.), totally rabid in supporting weapons like the D5, attacked Rep. Les AuCoin (D-Ore.) for wanting to stop the program. "You're for absolutely nothing," Dornan bayed. "You voted for nothing in your life for defense. You sit up there with your mouth dripping spleen and bile."

AuCoin and others demanded that Dornan be punished for his personal attack. A compromise was reached when Dornan, temporarily disarmed, agreed to apologize. As the media reported it, that was the talk of Congress that day: Dornan, the contortionist, putting one foot in his mouth while shooting himself in the other. The genuine news of the debate -- that by a vote of 342-79 Congress defeated the amendment -- was as submerged as the Navy's deepest submarine.

Another reason for the comparative obscurity of the D5 is that it has evoked little controversy. Its supporters can claim, correctly, that its first-strike capabilities are unique. What's the complaint in that? Why shouldn't we be able to annihilate the Russians, if they are ready to do that to us? The D5's explosive power would allow the Navy to attack and destroy Soviet missiles as they rest in silos, which the C4s can't. The D5s are more accurate and five times as explosive.

This is what the Pentagon's war planners call "escalation dominance." Others see it differently. In the September 1985 issue of Arms Control Today, a publication of the Arms Control Association, Robert Norris writes that the Trident II D5 escalates the risk of Soviet "incentive in an intense crisis not only to launch first but to launch a lot for fear that the United States was about to do so. This 'hair trigger' situation, which each superpower is forcing upon the other, heightens the risk that war will start inadvertently through accident or miscalculation. The deployment of Trident II will intensify this situation."

The $100 billion worth of instability that Congress is ordering won't be delivered in full until the end of the century. Annihilation may have a 15-year lead time.