The French nuclear-powered submarine "Le Téméraire" has just demonstrated the deterrent potential of the President of the French Republic. Emmanuel Macron has given his approval to the firing of an M51 strategic ballistic missile, which has departed from the French coast and reached the waters of the Caribbean, a little less than 6,000 kilometres away. Prior to the launch on 12 June, the French authorities had informed their NATO allies, as well as their partners in the European Union and the international community, of the launch through the usual diplomatic and military channels.
With a displacement of 14 tonnes and a length of 138 metres the submarine S617 "Le Téméraire" - The Daredevil - was positioned at Penmarch point just a short distance from its naval base in Brest in the Finisterre department at the western end of the Brittany region. In its initial phase, the M51 missile reached a speed close to Mach 25 - about 25 times the speed of sound -, ascended into outer space, crossed the North Atlantic, described a parabola, entered the atmosphere again and fell into the water, "hundreds of kilometers from any coast," according to the French Ministry of the Armed Forces.
The impact zone was located in international waters, about 650 kilometers off the coasts of Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic. The area had been restricted to shipping and air traffic to avoid accidents. Control of the naval airspace was exercised by a Dassault Falcon 50MS maritime patrol aircraft of the French Air Force and a Boeing RC-135 reconnaissance quadruple jet of the United States Air Force.
The government of Prime Minister Édouard Philippe has insisted on making clear that the launch of the M51 has served to validate the entry into service of the missile on board the aforementioned submarine, a "test" that has been carried out "in strict respect of France's international commitments".
However, Iran has expressed its concern about the event, which a spokesman for the Hassan Rohani government has described as a "threat to world peace and security". Tehran has also warned that testing such weapons "undermines the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty as a basis for international non-proliferation and nuclear disarmament". The missile's warhead did not contain any kind of explosive charge, let alone a nuclear warhead. The 110 crew members of the submarine participated in the test, along with about 400 military and civilian technicians from different organizations, including the Commissariat for Atomic Energy and Alternative Energies (CEA).
he trajectory of the M51 was first followed by ground radars and then by the French Navy's "Monge" A601 missile measurement and testing vessel, in case it became necessary to activate the missile's self-destruct system in the event of any deviation from its trajectory or abnormal operation. Everything about the M51 is shrouded in the strictest secrecy, especially its technology and the coded algorithms that guide the warheads to their pre-selected targets. It is not clear whether the shot ten days ago was the M51.2 or the first test of the new M51.3 series, an improved version. The open sources speak only of a length of 12 metres, a diameter of 2.3 metres and a take-off weight of around 54 tonnes.
Its manufacturing cost is also in the dark, although it is estimated that each copy exceeds 120 million euros. Each submarine houses 16 vertical launch missiles and the enormous expense involved in each M51 means that since its first shot in 2006 only a total of 9 launches have been known, one of which - from the submarine "Le Vigilant" in May 2013 - resulted in failure. The previous shot to the current one took place successfully in July 2016 from the submarine "Le Triomphant".
France permanently keeps one of its four atomic submarines in the sea as the main instrument of deterrence, a clear example of the French state's willingness to face autonomously any kind of potential aggressor, at least in the first place. In particular, against attempts by terrorist groups to use this type of weapon or in view of its use by North Korea or Iran.
This is a national self demand inherited by successive presidents of the republic, whatever the political tendency of the tenant of the Elysée Palace. It is a way of proving to the United States, Russia, China and India that Paris does not renounce to be considered as a global power. And this is happening even today, despite the fact that it is going through a serious economic situation, which has been aggravated by the coronavirus pandemic.
With the departure of the United Kingdom, France becomes the only nation in the European Union with nuclear weapons, and President Emmanuel Macron becomes the only European ruler with the capacity to press the button that orders the firing of a strategic missile equipped with thermonuclear warheads. The French Ministries of Defence and Industry and their large energy corporations are already working on improving the military nuclear programme, on obtaining recyclable fuels and on perfecting the so-called mixed oxide nuclear fuel. Also known as MOX (Mixed Oxide Fuel), it is a compound of natural uranium oxide, plutonium oxide and uranium reprocessed for use in nuclear fission reactors, which makes it possible to rule out the use of military plutonium, thus eliminating the risks and costs associated with its use and storage.
The prime contractor and responsible for the development of all variants of the M51 is ArianeGroup, the same industrial corporation that developed the Ariane 5 space launchers, which place satellites in orbit and take off from the European space base in French Guiana, north of Brazil.