France, Britain Retire Aging Nuclear Weapon Systems

By Cerniello, Craig | Arms Control Today, September 1996 | Go to article overview

France, Britain Retire Aging Nuclear Weapon Systems


Cerniello, Craig, Arms Control Today


ON SEPTEMBER 16, France deactivated its 18 S3D nuclear missiles, eliminating the land-based leg of its nuclear deterrent after 25 years of service. The aging single-warhead missiles, based in underground silos on the Plateau d'Albion in southeast France, had a range of approximately 3,500 kilometers enabling them to reach Moscow and other important targets in the former Soviet Union.

The missiles and their silos will be completely dismantled by 1998 at a cost of about $77.5 million. The deactivation is part of the major restructuring of French military forces announced by President Jacques Chirac earlier this year.

With the abandonment of its landbased nuclear force, France will rely on ballistic missile submarines (SSBNs) and bombers for nuclear deterrence. The current fleet of Inflexible-class SSBNs will be replaced by a new generation of Triomphant-class submarines, the first of which, Le Triomphant, is expected to enter into service by the end of the year. The second SSBN in the class, Le Temeraire, is expected to enter into service in 1999; the third, Le Vigilant, in 2001; and the last one, thus far unnamed, in 2005.

Each of the Triomphant-class submarines will be equipped with 16 M45 missiles capable of carrying up to six warheads each. The M45 will have a range of at least 6,000 kilometers.

Until a nuclear capable variant of the Rafale aircraft enters into service in 2005, the air-breathing leg of the French nuclear deterrent will consist of 45 Mirage 2000N aircraft armed with the Air-Sol Moyenne Portee (ASMP)-a single-warhead, medium-range, air-to-surface nuclear missile-and 20 Super Etendard aircraft also equipped with the ASMP. …

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