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French Strategic Air Forces launch first upgraded nuclear cruise missile

The French General Directorate of Armaments (DGA) conducted a successful test firing of the enhanced medium-range air-to-surface strategic missile (ASMPA-R). 

The ASMPA system, developed by European manufacturer MBDA and inducted in 1986, is a cruise missile with a range of 500 kilometers (310 miles) that can fly at a speed of at least Mach 2 and carry the latest generation of French nuclear charges, named TNA, of 300 kilotons [20 times the yield of the bomb dropped on Hiroshima – ed. note]. 

The renovated missile, launched without its warhead by a Dassault Rafale B fighter from the French Strategic Air Forces during a nuclear strike mission simulation, marks a significant milestone in the DGA’s ASMPA upgrade program.  

“This operation, simulating a strategic raid, was carried out above the national territory,” the DGA explained in a statement. “The raid included the [Airbus A330 MRTT] Phénix tanker and Rafale B fighters from the Strategic Air Forces, facing threats from both air-to-air and ground-to-air means from the Air Force and the Space.” 

The mission called Operation Durandal [named after a mythical sword in French tradition – ed. note] was tracked by several DGA facilities along the French Atlantic coast.  

The ASMPA-R program is designed to strengthen France’s nuclear deterrent capabilities and ensure the credibility of the air-launched nuclear component in the face of evolving threats until the next-generation nuclear air-to-surface missile (ASN4G) arrives around 2035.  

The ASN4G is a hypersonic nuclear-capable ramjet missile that will first be operated by the Rafale F5 before being used by the next-generation fighter aircraft (NGF) conjointly developed by Dassault Aviation and Airbus. 

Operation Poker, showing the teeth of French nuclear umbrella 

The French Strategic Air Forces, established in 1964, regularly conduct simulated nuclear strikes called Operation Poker.  

This mission, carried out four times a year, spans French territory and encompasses all aspects of a deterrent nuclear mission. It involves a long high-altitude flight with in-flight refueling, followed by low-altitude and high-speed penetration in highly defended areas. It concludes with the firing of an ASMPA missile at a test area at the DGA missile testing center. 

The exercise ensures that France has the operational and technical ability to conduct a nuclear strike. It also demonstrates to the world, particularly potential strategic adversaries, that French deterrence is credible. The air component is one of the two parts of French nuclear deterrence, along with the oceanic deterrent provided by nuclear ballistic missile submarines. 

The language of deterrence 

Since the start of the invasion of Ukraine, both Russia and the United States have regularly made statements about their respective strategic capabilities and their preparedness.  

On February 27, 2022, four days after the initial assault, Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered his country’s nuclear forces to move to the heightened alert status of a “special regime of combat duty.” 

The US Air Force regularly deploys nuclear-capable strategic bombers to Europe as part of Bomber Task Force missions to enhance interoperability and reassurance among the US Joint Force and its allies.   

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