France Upgrades M51 Ballistic Missile, Bolstering Nuclear Deterrence in Uncertain Times

France Upgrades M51 Ballistic Missile, Bolstering Nuclear Deterrence in Uncertain Times

France has successfully test-fired an upgraded version of its M51 ballistic missile, further enhancing the country's nuclear deterrence capabilities, according to the defense ministry. The missile, known as the M51.3, was fired from the Biscarosse missile testing site in southwest France and landed in the North Atlantic, far from any coastlines. The test flight confirmed significant improvements in the missile and will contribute to the ongoing credibility of France's ocean-based deterrence for years to come.

Maintaining the operational credibility of France's nuclear weapons is deemed necessary given the current international environment, particularly in light of Russia's invasion of Ukraine earlier this year and President Vladimir Putin's repeated warnings about his willingness to use nuclear weapons to defend Russia. The M51.3 is an upgraded version of the M51, a sea-land strategic ballistic missile primarily deployed on French Navy submarines. The M51 was first test-fired from a ground base in 2006 and from a submarine in 2010.

The new M51.3, developed by aerospace firm ArianeGroup, a joint venture between Airbus and French defense group Safran, is expected to enter service around 2025. Ballistic missiles, like the M51.3, differ from cruise missiles in that they follow elliptic trajectories after launch and often leave the Earth's atmosphere to reach lower space. In contrast, cruise missiles typically follow straight trajectories at low altitudes, powered by continuous thrust until they reach their target. This successful test launch of the M51.3 missile highlights France's commitment to maintaining and improving its nuclear deterrence capabilities. It is a significant step forward in ensuring the country's security and preserving its position as a credible global power in the face of evolving threats.

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