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France's Nuclear Weapons

The Current French Arsenal

Last changed 1 May 2001

Plans are going forward though to upgrade the air and sea-based legs of the French nuclear arsenal. The submarine fleet will eventually be re-equipped with the M51 long range ballistic missile, and the ASMP nuclear missile carried by the Mirage 2000N (and the Rafale after the turn of the century) will be upgraded. The scale of all these programs has been reduced over original plans however.

With the retirement of its tactical and strategic land based missiles, the bulk of France's nuclear force rests with the Strategic Oceanic Force (FOST - Force Océanique Stratégique) represented by the L'Inflexible and Le Triomphant class strategic missile submarines. Each submarine has 16 ballistic missiles.

L'Inflexible Triomphant
The first L'Inflexible and was deployed on 1 April 1985. This class was actually an upgrade of the existing Redoubtable class. The other three Redoubtables included in this upgrade were returned to service from October 1987 and February 1993. Currently there are two boats of this class in service - the L'Indomptable (S613) and the L'Inflexible herself (S615). L'Inflexible will be the last boat retired.

On 24 July 1981, Pres. Mitterand announced plans for an entirely new third generation submarine class, the SNLE-NG (Sous-Marins Nucleaires Lanceurs Engins-Nouvelle Generation), later designated Le Triomphant. Originally slated to be a fleet of six submarines, in May 1992 this was scaled back to four. The lead ship of the class, Le Triomphant (S616), was rolled out in Cherbourg on 13 July 1993 and went into service late in September 1996, carrying the new MSBS M45 SLBMs. These successors to the MSBS M4B missile are an updated extended range version of the M4 family and are armed with the new TN-75 warhead. The second boat, Le Temeraire entered service 23 December 1999. Originally planned for commissioning at the beginning of 2000, the schedule for Le Vigilant, has been slipped repeatedly for budgetary reasons and is now expected to enter active service in July 2004. The fourth boat, designated S619 but still unnamed, was not ordered by the Commission de la Défense de l’Assemblée Nationale until 15 September 1999 and is planned for entry into active service in July 2008. As each boat is deployed it will replace one of the L'Inflexible class. Future modernization plans call for replacement of the M45 missile with a new missile designated the M51, with entry into service in 2010 and full deployment by 2015.

The TN-75 is the only nuclear warhead currently being manufactured. It is being produced at the Centre d'Etudes de Valduc (Valduc Research Institute, the "Pantex of France"), near Is-sur-Tille, 40 km north of Dijon. The program to develop the TN-75, a miniaturized hardened and stealthy thermonuclear warhead of moderate yield, began in 1987. Developmental testing of the warhead ended in 1991, but Chirac asserted in June 1995 that a full yield proof test was needed prior to deployment. Its first full-yield test was probably the 110 kt detonation on 1 October 1995 at Fangataufa. Series production began soon afterward, and probably will continue until some time in 2001-2003. Since at about 100 kt the TN-75 has reduced yield compared to its predecessor the TN-71 (150 kt) the MSBS M45 missile will carry a somewhat smaller amount of firepower.

ASMP Missile
The other leg of the French Force de Dissuasion (Deterrent Force, formerly the Force de Frappe or Strike Force) consists of the ASMP missile (Air-Sol Moyenne Portee) carried on the Mirage 2000N and the carrier-based Super Etendard (the Mirage IVP having been retired in July 1996). The ASMP has carried the burden as France's air delivered nuclear weapon since 11 September 1991 when Mitterand announced the retirement of the AN 52, France's last nuclear gravity bomb. The number of Mirage 2000N aircraft committed to nuclear missions has been reduced from 75 in 1989 to 45 today. These are deployed in three squadrons at Luxeuil and Istres. The number of nuclear capable Super Etendard aircraft has been reduced from 55 to 24 (only 20 warhead-equipped missiles are available in any case), deployed in two squadrons. A possible future modernization of this arm may be to deploy a range-enhanced "ASMP Plus" (500 km vs. 300 km). About half of the Super Etendards are deployed on the Charles de Gaulle, France's only operational aircraft carrier which enetered service in late 2000 after six and a half years of trials (numerous problems were encountered). The Foch was retired by the end of 2000, and the Clemenceau was decommissioned in 1997. The Navy has requested a second de Gaulle class aircraft carrier to be named Richelieu.

The Rafale next-generation multipurpose fighter/bomber will eventually replace both the Mirage 2000N and the Super Etendard. The first production Rafale was delivered 4 December 1998. Production rates will slowly climb from 8 a year to about 16 in 2003/2004 and maybe 20 annually later in the decade (total planned deployment is 234). The Navy has priority for the Rafale; the Aéronavale wants to have its first unit of six aircraft (out of a total order of 60 Rafale Ms) ready on the aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle by June 2001, but won't tak up a nuclear mission before 2002. The airforce (Armée de l'Air) will begin receiving aircraft in earnest in 2003, with the first squadron (escadron) of 20 fighters ready by early 2005. Deliveries will stretch at least to 2020 (more than 40 years since the start of the program).

The AN 51 Pluton warheads and the AN 52 gravity bombs have already been dismantled at Valduc. Currently the 18 TN 61 one Mt warheads from the S3 MRBMs, and the 30 TN 90 variable yield warheads for the Hades are in storage awaiting disassembly.

French Strategic Forces: End of 2000

Weapon Designations

Launcher Number

Warhead Loading
(Number x Mt)

Warhead Number

Total Yield
(Gross Mt)

Total Yield
(Equiv Mt)


M4B 32 6 x 0.150 TN-71 192 28.8 54.2
M45 32 6 x 0.100 TN-75 192 19.2 41.4
L'Inflexible Class Submarine 2 16 x M4B
Le Triomphant Class Submarine 2 16 x M45


Mirage 2000N 45 1 x 0.30 (ASMP w/TN-81) 45 13.5 20.2
Super Etendard 24 1 x 0.30 (ASMP w/TN-81) 20 6 9.0

Grand Total

133 449 67.5 124.8


French Delivery Systems and Characteristics

Delivery Systems

Entry into Service



(CEP, m)

Warhead Number and Type


MSBS M4B 1985/87 6000 6 x TN 71 (150 kt)
MSBS M45 1996 6000 6 x TN 75 (100 kt)
L'Inflexible Class Submarine 16 x M4B
Le Triomphant Class Submarine 16 x M45


Mirage 2000N 1988 2750 1 x ASMP TN 81 (300 kt)
Super Etendard 1978 650 1 x ASMP TN 81 (300 kt)

Cruise Missiles

ASMP 1986 90 300/ 1 x TN 81 65 1986 300 1 x TN 81 (300 kt)

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