French Nukes

I’m in Paris attending Euronaval, the rapidly growing defense and naval exhibition, so I’m going to focus on some European themes this week.

Let’s start with this article from Aviation Week on upgrades to the French nuclear deterrent, specifically the M51. I think it’s fascinating France.jpgthat France, not unlike the United States, is redefining how it looks at its nuclear arsenal. In particular, this notion of a “graduated deterrent” is likely to worry those who feel this makes nuclear weapons more likely to be used.

As the article reports:

Developed by EADS, the M51 will weigh half again as much as the existing M45, allowing it carry up to six warheads over an intercontinental range–classified, but in excess of 6,000-8,000 km.–with higher performance and safety margins. The M51 will be installed on second-generation Triomphant-class ballistic missile-carrying submarines, beginning with the fourth and final of the class, the Terrible, now under construction at the DCN shipyard in Cherbourg.

In addition to vastly increased throwweight and accuracy, the M51 and its aerial adjunct, the improved ASMPA nuclear cruise missile, will offer greater operational flexibility. This is in line with France’s changing nuclear doctrine–notably with respect to regional powers. In an address at the Ile Longue nuclear submarine base in Brittany on Jan. 19, President Jacques Chirac said France would reserve the right to strike strategic nerve centers with a graduated deterrent as a “final warning” to enemy aggression–a veiled reference to North Korea and Iran.

A graduated deterrent–for example, ICBMs equipped with less than a full complement of warheads configured to explode at high altitude–could use electromagnetic shock waves to knock out enemy electronics, minimizing collateral damage.

Chirac insisted that the principles underlying French nuclear doctrine have not changed: There is still no question of fielding battlefield nuclear weapons or authorizing preemptive strikes, despite pressure to do so (AW&ST June 6, 2005, p. 27). “But the manner in which these principles are implemented has changed and will continue to change to meet 21st century threats,” he said.

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