France, a nuclear power very jealous of its sovereignty and a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, needs to periodically show, to its potential enemies and also to its allies, that its fearsome arsenal is up to date. That is why it officially announced yesterday, through a statement from the Ministry of Defense, that on Saturday it successfully carried out the first real test of the new M51.3 strategic ballistic missile over the Atlantic.
“This evolution extends the credibility of our nuclear deterrent and demonstrates the excellence of our rocket technology,” said Minister Sébastien Lecornu. The launch was carried out from the Biscarrosse missile test center, in the Landes region, in the southwest of the country. Obviously, the missile did not carry nuclear warheads.
France carried out the last underground atomic test in January 1996 on the Fangataufa atoll, a Polynesian territory under French sovereignty in the Pacific, despite strong protests worldwide. It was the conservative president Jacques Chirac who, after being elected, decided, for scientific and national security reasons, to carry out a final series of six real atomic tests before confirming that no more would be done and that new weapons tests would only be carried out through laboratory simulations.
In Lecornu's statement, it was specified that the missile was monitored in all its flight phases and fell in an area of the North Atlantic "several hundred kilometers from any coast," and that international agreements were respected.
The M51.3 is the improved version of the M51, an intercontinental missile designed to be launched from submarines. If there are no setbacks, the new weapon should be operational in 2025.
French strategic deterrence rests above all on the four nuclear-powered submarines that are based on a super-guarded island, Île Longue, near Brest (Brittany). Each of them carries 16 missiles with multiple nuclear warheads. There is always one submarine patrolling in a secret area, presumably in Arctic waters, and another capable of setting sail quickly if necessary. The other two are usually under maintenance. After the invasion of Ukraine, two were said to be patrolling simultaneously, as a warning to Russia.
In addition to submarines, France has shorter-range nuclear missiles that can be fired from fighter-bombers, previously the Mirage and now the Rafale.