TechFrance offers to support Europe with autonomous nuclear capabilities amid NATO concerns

France offers to support Europe with autonomous nuclear capabilities amid NATO concerns

ASMP-A missile under the fuselage of the Rafale aircraft
ASMP-A missile under the fuselage of the Rafale aircraft
Images source: © MBDA
8:31 AM EST, February 15, 2024

The phrase "France's willingness to loan their nuclear capabilities to Europe" was mentioned in the discussion between the Polish Premier and the French President. This statement is a reaction to Donald Trump's suggestion that America may selectively protect only NATO members who pay their dues, a statement that has caused outrage in many European countries.

Paris: A sovereign atomic power

France is the solitary European country with the capability of developing nuclear weapons autonomously. This includes an extensive range of both strategic and tactical weapons. The United Kingdom is the only other country in Europe with nuclear capabilities. However, their abilities heavily rely on support from the United States, as shown by their use of American Trident II D-5 intercontinental ballistic missiles.

In contrast, France solely relies on its resources and solutions. Even during the Cold War, France maintained a complete nuclear triad composed of weapons launched from land, sea, and air. However, since the late 90s, after ceasing to use silos on the Albion plateau and mobile land launchers, they now only deploy intercontinental ballistic missiles from submarines and use tactical nuclear weapons in aviation.

France operates four nuclear-powered submarines from the Le Triomphant class (Le Triomphant, Le Téméraire, Le Vigilant, and Le Terrible), brought into service between 1997 and 2010. French policy dictates that at least two submarines should always be ready for combat to use one or all of the 16 intercontinental ballistic missiles from the M45 or M51 family. With an estimated range of about 4970-6214 miles, these missiles can carry up to 10 TN 75 warheads with a power yield of 150 kt.

The ASMP-A missiles, introduced into service in 2009, are an upgraded version of the ASMP (Air-Sol Moyenne Portée) that's been in use since 1986. The newer model is characterized by an increased range of around 311 miles, a significant step from its predecessor's range of up to 186 miles. These missiles weigh roughly 1896 lbs, reach 17.7 feet, and are powered by a special propulsion system. Instead of an ordinary solid rocket engine, they function with a jet engine, similar to the newer MBDA Meteor missile.

The jet engine bubbles up oxygen required for combustion from the atmosphere, rather than relying on rocket fuel, thus creating more room for fuel and extending the range. However, one disadvantage is accelerating the missile to turn on the jet engine, which a regular rocket engine executes until reaching Mach 2 speed. Once this speed is discarded, the ASMP-A further accelerates to Mach 3, significantly complicating the interception job for air defense systems.

Combined with an advanced navigation system, it ensures the precision of several to tens of meters, permitting accurate delivery of the thermonuclear TN-81 warhead with an adjustable yield of 150-300 kt. It's important to note that the French are advancing towards a new ASN4G missile (air-sol nucléaire de 4e génération). This new system demonstrates hypersonic speed (Mach 6-8) and a range of roughly 621 miles.

Especially when it comes to tactical nuclear weapons, France possesses what other Western nuclear powers lack.

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