The French Directorate General of Armaments (DGA, Direction générale de l’armement) successfully test-fired the M51.2 strategic ballistic missile on Wednesday morning from its Biscarosse test site on France’s Atlantic coast. The missile was followed throughout its flight phase by DGA Essais de Missiles. This test was carried out without a military nuclear warhead and in strict compliance with France’s international commitments. Online flight tracking software also showed a U.S. Air Force RC-135S Cobra Ball aircraft. The fallout zone was located in the North Atlantic.
The M51 SLBM is a French submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM), built by ArianeGroup, and deployed with the French Navy (Marine nationale). Designed to replace the M45, it was first deployed in 2010. Each missile carries six to ten independently targetable TN 75 thermonuclear warheads. The three-stage engine of the M51 is directly derived from the solid propellant boosters of Ariane 5. Like other blunt-nosed SLBM examples, such as the Trident D5, the M51 uses an extensible aerospike in the nose.
The missiles are a compromise over the M5 SLBM design, which was to have a range of 11,000 km (6,800 mi) and carry 10 new generation Tête nucléaire océanique’ (“Oceanic nuclear warhead”) MIRVs. Design work on the M5 started in the late 1980s by Aérospatiale, before the programme was renamed the M51 in 1996, when development costs decreased by 20 percent. France first tested the M51 missile in 2006 and inducted it to its nuclear force in 2010. Following Le Téméraire’s mid-life refitment in 2018, the M51 system became operational on all French missile submarines.
On 10 May 2016 Airbus and Safran signed a joint 50-50 partnership to develop the M51.3 upgrade intended to enter service around 2025. On 12 June 2020, a successful test launch of an M51.3 missile was conducted from the Le Téméraire Triomphant-class submarine off the south-west tip of Finistère. The M51.3 is designed to maintain the capabilities of the ocean component facing the most severe missile defenses, which will enter service in the middle of the next decade [eg, about 2025] when the M51.1 ends it service life.