France tests new submarine-launched nuclear missile
On November 18, 2023, over the Bay of Biscay, France successfully launched the latest unarmed version of the three-stage M51.3 strategic ballistic missile that carries the country's submarine-borne nuclear deterrent wing.
France's nuclear arsenal doesn't get a lot of popular discussion these days, but the nation's Force de frappe or Force de dissuasion with its 290 fusion warheads set in the heart of Europe is hard to ignore.
Unlike the American and British nuclear forces that are designed as a general deterrent against nuclear aggression, France's nuclear arsenal was conceived specifically as a completely independent force to ward off attack on the French homeland. However, French national pride, if nothing else, has ensured that it remains a fully deployed, cutting-edge asset.
Some of France's nuclear weapons are carried by fighter bombers, but the most important wing is carried by the French Navy's four Triomphant-class nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines, one of which is always on patrol. Each of these submarines carries 16 M45 missiles, multiple armed with up to six TN75 warheads, each with a yield of 110 kilotons.
Since 2010, ArianeGroup has been developing the M51 family of missiles to replace the M45 with the M51.3, the latest variant. It's been on the drawing board since 2014 and boasts a number of improvements, including the ability to carry warheads with a yield of up to 150 kilotons, and an improved third stage for extended range and the ability to penetrate missile defenses. The exact upper range is classified, but it's estimated to be about 10,000 km (5,000 miles) and has a top speed of Mach 25.
The M51.3 is scheduled to go into service in 2025 with the Triomphant class and the SNLE 3G successor submarine class currently being planned. The M51.4 is already being considered for development.
The recent test took place under the French General Directorate of Armaments (DGA) and took off from the DGA missile testing site in Biscarrosse, southwestern France. The missile flight sent it over the North Atlantic and it splashed down in an isolated sea area hundreds of miles from any coast.
"This development perpetuates the credibility of our nuclear deterrence and demonstrates the excellence of our launcher sector," said Sébastien Lecornu, Minister of the Armed Forces.
Source: French Ministry of Defense