France Increases Nuclear Force Readiness Amid War In Ukraine

France has significantly increased it nuclear readiness in the past week. According toAir & Cosmos journal devices on duty as tensions between France and Russia rise amid the war in Ukraine. The Escadrille des Sous-Marins Nucléaires d’Attaque (ESNA) currently operates with 75% of its strength as the third Le Triomphant Class nuclear launch capable submarine left the port of Île Longue. This decision was probably undertaken due to the risk of Île Longue being targeted in case of a conflict between NATO and Russia.

The ESNA is capable of fielding four Le Triomphant class ballistic missile submarines. Three of them: Le Triomphant (S616), Téméraire (S617) and Le Vigilant (S618) underwent modernization programs which enhanced their nuclear deterrence capacity. Each of the modernized French vessels carries 16 M51.2 ballistic missiles that contain 150kt yield warheads each. The M51.2 ballistic missiles can reach targets as far as 11,000km from the launch site. It means that the French nuclear deterrent force is currently carrying 48 warheads ready to be deployed if needed.

But the maritime component is not France’s only nuclear arm. Air & Cosmos reports that French journalists did not receive answers to questions about the deployment of ASMP-A nuclear air-launched cruise missile with Rafale jets. Admiral Pierre Vandier refused to comment on this during a press conference on 8 March, stating that such decisions (the deployment of nuclear-capable cruise missiles) are a matter of national security.

Mock ASMP-A missile during Paris Air Show in 2007. / Thomas Boucajay under Creative Commons CC-BY 3.0 License

The Center For Arms Control And Non-Proliferation estimates suggest that French nuclear stockpiles consist of 290 warheads with 280 of them deployed. There are 40 warheads for the land-base-operated air force wings while the French Naval Aviation arm has 10 warheads. All of them could be delivered by the ASMP cruise missile family. It is not confirmed whether the ASMP-A missiles have been deployed with France’s NATO air policing mission over Estonia, though this seems unlikely.

Cover photo by courtesy of Hohum under Creative Commons CC-BY-SA 2.0 License