First Firing of France’s Modernized ASMPA Nuclear Stand-Off Missile

The first firing of an upgraded ASMPA (Air-Sol Moyenne Portée-Amélioré ASMP-A) air-launched, medium-range stand-off missile was carried on December 9, marking the beginning of its qualification phase. The missile, developed by MBDA, was fired from a Dassault Aviation Rafale, as part of a program under the supervision of the DGA, which took off from Air Base 120 in Cazaux. Throughout its flight phase, the missile was monitored by DGA Missile Tests at Biscarosse, Hourtin and Quimper. This success marks the beginning of the qualification phase of the modernized ASMPA missile, a prerequisite before its entry into service in the Strategic Air Forces (FAS) of the Air and Space Army and in the Nuclear Naval Air Force (FANU) of the French Navy.

ASMP and ASMPA is 5.38 m long and weighs 860 kg. It is a supersonic standoff missile powered by a liquid fuel ramjet. The ASMPA uses the air vehicle pre-developed for the Vesta activity (ramjet air vehicle) in conjunction with the ANF future anti-ship programme (ANF was suspended at the end of 1999). The missile is powered by a ramjet motor. This mode of propulsion, compared to a traditional rocket propulsion system, allows for the significant reduction of both the required space within the missile as well as missile weight in relation to the required range and warhead charge. It allows the missile to cover a large part of the flight envelope at high supersonic speeds. It allows the missile to cover a large part of
the flight envelope at high supersonic speeds.

An ASMPA nuclear stand-off missile mounted on the centerline pylon of a French Air Force Rafale fighter. (Photo by French Air Force)

The transition scenario from ASMP to ASMPA was initial entry into service on the K3 standard of the Mirage 2000N and subsequently on the F3 standard Rafale. The ASMP (Air-Sol Moyenne Portée; medium-range air to surface missile) is a French nuclear air-launched cruise missile. In French nuclear doctrine it is called a “pre-strategic” weapon, the last-resort “warning shot” prior to a full-scale employment of strategic nuclear weapons. The missile’s construction was contracted to Aérospatiale’s Tactical Missile Division, now part of MBDA. The missile cost $600 million to develop. ASMP entered service in May 1986, replacing the earlier free-fall AN-22 bomb on France’s Dassault Mirage IV aircraft and the AN-52 bomb on Dassault Super Étendard. About 84 weapons are stockpiled. Carrier aircraft are the Dassault Mirage 2000N, Rafale and Super Étendard.

An advanced version known as Air-Sol Moyenne Portée-Amélioré ASMPA (improved ASMP) has a range of about 500 kilometres (310 mi) at a speed of up to Mach 3 with the new TNA (Tête Nucléaire Aéroportée) 300kt thermonuclear warhead. It entered service in October 2009 with the Mirage 2000NK3 of squadron EC 3/4 at Istres and on July 2010 with the Rafales of squadron EC 1/91 at Saint Dizier. 54 ASMP-A have been delivered to French army. It flies at Mach 2 to Mach 3, with a range between 80 km and 300 km (ASMP)/ 500 km (ASMP-A) depending on flight profile. Warhead was a single variable-yield 100 to 300 kiloton TN 81 for ASMP, and a single variable-yield 100 to 300 kiloton TNA (Airborne nuclear warhead) for ASMP-A. The range and penetration capabilities have been significantly enhanced in relation to ASMP.