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Thursday, 07 July 2005 13:04
French Nuclear Forces 2005

Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists:
Though France is a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and is bound by Article VI's goal of nuclear disarmament, it shows no signs of giving up its remaining arsenal. Instead, it is making plans to develop, procure, and deploy new nuclear weapons, and to maintain its existing arsenal without nuclear testing, for years to come.


Date: Thu, 07 Jul 2005 23:08:12 -0400
Subject: BAS: French nuclear forces 2005
From: Robin Collins < This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it >

NRDC: Nuclear Notebook French nuclear forces, 2005

  By Robert S. Norris and Hans M. Kristensen July/August 2005  pp. 73-75
(vol. 61, no. 04) ? 2005 Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists

France currently has two nuclear weapons systems: submarine-launched
ballistic missiles (SLBMs) carried by nuclear-powered ballistic missile
submarines (SSBNs) and medium-range air-to-surface missiles carried by
Mirage 2000N and Super ?tendard aircraft. [1] Fifteen years ago, it had four
additional systems that have now been removed from service. France retired,
and presumably disassembled, the 175 warheads associated with these systems.

Though France is a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and is
bound by Article VI's goal of nuclear disarmament, it shows no signs of
giving up its remaining arsenal. Instead, it is making plans to develop,
procure, and deploy new nuclear weapons, and to maintain its existing
arsenal without nuclear testing, for years to come.

French President Jacques Chirac set out his country's nuclear plans in
February 1996 when he announced broad military reforms for 1997-2002. The
plans called for consolidating French nuclear forces on fewer platforms and
developing a new generation of nuclear weapons. During a visit to Moscow on
September 26, 1997, Chirac confirmed that none of France's nuclear weapons
remained aimed at designated targets.

Chirac and the government presented a new five-year military plan on
September 11, 2002. Adopted on January 27, 2003, the plan, for the most
part, continues to fund programs first presented in 1996. France's 2005
budget authorizes 3.18 billion euros (about $4 billion) for nuclear weapons,
with 1.85 billion euros (about $2.37 billion) of the total going toward the
submarine program. Nuclear weapons spending makes up less than 10 percent of
the total defense budget.

Bombers. Three squadrons with a total of 60 Mirage 2000Ns currently have
nuclear roles. Two of these (named Dauphin? and La Fayette) are based at
Luxeuil-les-Bains, 130 kilometers southwest of Strasbourg. The third
squadron (Limousin) is at Istres, 40 kilometers northwest of Marseille.
Since the 1991 Gulf War, in which the night-attack capability of the
then-nuclear only Mirage 2000N proved useless, the aircraft has been given
some conventional capability to increase its utility. Both Dassault, the
aircraft's manufacturer, and the Arm?e de l'Air confirm that the Mirage
2000N's "primary assignment" remains its nuclear-strike role. [2]

The Mirage 2000N carries the Air-Sol-Moyenne Port?e (ASMP) supersonic
missile equipped with a single TN-81 warhead. We estimate that France has
about 60 operational ASMPs, but additional missiles may be in inactive
storage. There are conflicting reports about the inventory of missiles and
warheads. A 1991 French Senate report stated that France initially produced
80 warheads and 90 ASMPs. In May 1994, however, when 15 Mirage IVs (plus
three spares) still had nuclear roles and only 45 Mirage 2000Ns were
operational, then-President Fran?ois Mitterrand identified 60 ASMPs for use
by both air force and navy aircraft. He did not disclose the number of
warheads, however, and used slightly different language to describe the
number of missiles assigned to the different types of aircraft. For the
Mirage IV, he gave a fixed number, saying, "We possess 15 missiles." For the
Mirage 2000N and Super ?tendard aircraft, however, the number was less
precise. "These forces possess 45 missiles," he said, indicating that the
exact number may be dependent on the number of operational aircraft. Since
then, the air force has made operational an additional 15 Mirage 2000Ns and
retired most Mirage IVs. The aircraft's ASMP missiles may have been
reassigned to the Mirage 2000N. France is also preparing to enter into
service a longer-range ASMP, named ASMP-Am?lior? (ASMP-A), that will have a
400-500 kilometer range, compared to the 300-kilometer range of the ASMP.
The ASMP-A will be equipped with a new warhead designated T?te Nucl?aire
Aero-port?e (TNA), a variant of the T?te Nucl?aire Oceanique (TNO), and is
expected to enter service with modified Mirage 2000N K3s in 2007 and with
Rafale aircraft in 2008. The air force retained five Mirage IVs for
reconnaissance missions as part of the 1/91 Gascogne squadron at
Mont-de-Marsan, but they will be retired on August 31, 2005. France intends
to eventually replace all of its Mirage aircraft with the Rafale, its new
multipurpose fighter-bomber. [3] The Rafale program calls for 234 aircraft
for the air force and 60 for the navy. The Rafale's roles include
conventional ground attack, air defense, air superiority, and, eventually,
delivery of the nuclear ASMP-A. The air force began forming its first
squadron of F2-standard Rafales at Saint-Dizier in February 2005, with the
goal of having it operational in the summer of 2006. The F2 configuration
includes both air-to-air and air-to-ground capabilities. The second squadron
will be nuclear-equipped and is scheduled to be operational in 2008. [4]

The first navy Rafale M, a carrier-based version, was delivered to Flotille
12 at Landivisiau in July 2000. The navy deployed a squadron of 10 Rafale Ms
aboard the carrier Charles de Gaulle in December 2001 for training and in
support of the U.S.-led operation, "Enduring Freedom," in Afghanistan. The
squadron was declared operational on June 25, 2004. These aircraft were
configured to the F1 standard, providing only air defense capabilities.

The navy plans to equip two additional Rafale M squadrons, one in 2007 and
another in 2010. These aircraft will have the F2 configuration; the initial
10 aircraft will be upgraded to this standard. The final F3 standard expands
the aircraft's weapon capability to accommodate the ASMP-A nuclear missile.
[5] The Rafale M flew sorties with a model of the new missile on its
centerline from the Charles de Gaulle in December 2002.

France has built three aircraft carriers. The Clemenceau entered service in
1961 and the Foch in 1963. Both were modified to handle the AN 52 nuclear
gravity bomb with Super ?tendard aircraft. The AN 52 was retired in July
1991. The navy modified the Foch in 1981 to "handle and store" the ASMP and
allocated about 20 missiles for two squadrons--about 24 Super ?tendard
aircraft. The Foch is thought to have routinely carried nuclear weapons
until it was decommissioned in November 2000. The 40,500-ton nuclear-powered
Charles de Gaulle can accommodate 35-40 aircraft. Nuclear capability aboard
the carrier remains with a squadron of Super ?tendards, presumably equipped
with about 10 ASMPs. France is the only country to still deploy nuclear
weapons aboard aircraft carriers. After lengthy consideration, President
Chirac announced in February 2004 that a planned new aircraft carrier would
have a conventional propulsion system. The ship is scheduled to enter
service in 2014, and the government has earmarked approximately two billion
euros (about $2.5 billion) for the program. Rafale aircraft will eventually
operate from the carrier.

SSBNs. France currently operates four SSBNs of two classes: three Le
Triomphant-class subs and one Le Redoutable-class sub. A Triomphant-class
sub can carry 16 M45 SLBMs, each with a capacity of six TN75 warheads. The
navy rolled out Le Triomphant from the Cherbourg shipyard on July 13, 1993
and made it operational in September 1996. It commissioned the second
Triomphant-class sub, Le T?m?raire, in December 1999, some six months behind
schedule, and successfully test-launched an M45 missile from the sub in May
1999. The third sub, Le Vigilant, was commissioned on November 30, 2004, and
is replacing the soon-to-be decommissioned L'Indomptable in France's
Strategic Oceanic Force (FOST). A fourth Triomphant SSBN, Le Terrible, is
under construction at the Cherbourg shipyard and is scheduled for its
initial patrol in 2010. One estimate has put the cost of the
Triomphant-class program at nearly 16 billion euros (about $20 billion).
This includes construction of the submarines, maintenance, personnel, and 25
years of operation. Adding the costs of missiles and warheads brings the
total to 32 billion euros (about $40 billion).

During his February 1996 address, Chirac announced that a new SLBM, known as
the M51, will replace the M45. The missile, now designated M51.1, is
scheduled to enter service in 2010 in order to coincide with the
commissioning of Le Terrible. The M51.1 is expected to have a range of 6,000
kilometers and to carry up to six warheads and penetration aids. Its range
could be extended by carrying fewer warheads. The missile was test-launched
in early 2004 and will eventually arm all four Triomphant-class SSBNs by
about 2014. Military planners initially intended for the M51 to carry an
entirely new warhead, the T?te Nucl?aire Nouvelle, but the combination of
costs, changing strategic requirements, and the cessation of nuclear weapons
testing led them to settle for the more robust TNO warhead. This warhead was
presumably tested during France's last series of tests from September 1995
to January 1996. An upgraded missile, designated the M51.2, is scheduled to
be deployed in 2015 and will carry the TNO warhead.

France has transitioned to an operational inventory of approximately 288
TN75 warheads for three sets of M45 SLBMs (48 missiles plus spares), enough
to arm three of the four operational SSBNs. Final assembly of warheads
occurs at the Valduc Center near Dijon, France's Pantex. Warheads are stored
at a Ministry of Defense facility contiguous to Valduc pending delivery to
the military or disassembly. [6] We estimate that the TN75 warheads were
produced between 1996 and 2003 at Valduc. France retired a comparable number
of TN70/71 warheads beginning in the late 1990s and presumably disassembled
them at Valduc.

The navy maintains three of four SSBNs in the operational cycle, although
only one or two are normally "on station" in designated patrol areas at any
given time, compared with three in the early 1990s. [7] The SSBN force is
organized under the FOST and home-ported at the Ile Longue base near Brest.
Technicians mate the warheads from Valduc with their reentry vehicles and
missiles at a special facility at Ile Longue. The navy relocated its SSBN
command center to Brest in 2000; communication facilities continue to
operate from Rosnay in the department of Indre. Four C-160H Astart?
communication relay aircraft also maintain communication with SSBNs on
patrol. Nuclear attack submarines, Atlantique 2 maritime patrol aircraft,
antisubmarine frigates, and minesweepers all protect French SSBNs during

SSBN protection will be an important mission for the new Barracuda-class
nuclear-powered attack submarine, which is planned to enter service in 2010.
Like SSBNs, each French attack sub has two crews to optimize its operational
availability. SLBM tests are coordinated from the Test Center of the Landes.
The missiles are fired from down-range SSBNs toward an impact zone near the
Azores. France conducted its two hundred and tenth and last nuclear test on
January 27, 1996, signed the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty on September 24,
1996, and ratified it on April 6, 1998. The Military Applications Division
of the Commissariat ? l'?nergie Atomique has the exclusive responsibility
for the research, development, monitoring (formerly testing), and production
of French nuclear warheads. In the absence of full-scale testing, it has
established a simulation program to guarantee that the warheads will perform
to their design specifications.

A number of new facilities comprise the program. The Ile-de-France Center at
Bruy?res-le-Ch?tel, 35 kilometers south of Paris, contains the T?ra
supercomputer that powers computer simulations. Located at Moronvilliers
near Reims, the AIRIX linear electron beam accelerator takes flash
radiographic pictures of nuclear weapons components under dynamic
conditions. It began operation in January 2001. Construction of the Laser
Megajoule facility began in May 2003 at the Centre d'Etudes Scientifiques et
Techniques d'Aquitaine, 30 kilometers southwest of Bordeaux. The laser,
which consists of 240 laser beams (30 lines of eight beams) converging on a
target just a few millimeters in diameter, will simulate fusion reactions,
like those caused by hydrogen bombs. It is scheduled to be fully operational
(ignition) in 2011.

1. Bruno Tertrais, "Nuclear Policy: France Stands Alone," Bulletin of the
Atomic Scientists, July/August 2004, pp. 48­55. 2. Marie Bubenicek and Yves
G?rand, "La Dissuasion Nucl?aire," Air Actualit?s, October 2004, pp. 48­49;
"La Double Vie du ?Dauphine,'" Air Actualit?s, September 2004, pp. 30­33. 3.
Darren Lake, "Squall from the Sea," Jane's Navy International, November
2003, pp. 12­18. 4. En Brief item, Air Actualit?s, March 2005, p. 6. 5.
Lake, "Squall from the Sea," p. 15. 6. Bruno Barrillot, France and Nuclear
Proliferation, (Lyon: CDRPC, 2001), p. 16. 7. French government, Fighting
Proliferation, Promoting Arms Control and Disarmament: France's Contribution
(2005), p. 64.

Nuclear Notebook is prepared by Robert S. Norris and Hans M. Kristensen of
the Natural Resources Defense Council. Inquiries should be directed to NRDC,
1200 New York Avenue, N.W., Suite 400, Washington, D.C., 20005;
202-289-6868. July/August 2005 pp. 73-75 (vol. 61, no. 04) 

? 2005 Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists

Last Updated on Thursday, 07 July 2005 13:04

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