Frank Whittle
Hans von Ohain
Heinkel He 176
French ramjet experiment
commercial jet aviation
in search of speed
the Cold War
the B-52 Bomber
the Soviet Blackjack
Soviet vertical takeoff efforts
Curtiss LeMay and SACs
the aircraft carrier
cold war fighters
the B2 bomber early programme
US bombers - the future
post war British air defence
French nuclear deterrence
current air capability of China
helicopters at war
'small' wars
guided bombs
cruise missiles

French Nuclear Air Deterrence
R. Colon
PO Box 29754
Rio Piedras, Puerto Rico 00929

France has possessed nuclear weapons systems since the 1950s. From the outset, France's Nuclear Posture was based on three key points: Instability, Strategic Security, and Nuclear Independency. France regarded instability on a state and/or sub-state level and their technological breakthroughs, possible threats to the "strategic stability" balance in the world. Because of this the country has identify four major theatres of operations as their main areas of concern:

1. The Arc of the Atlantic to the Indian Ocean. This area is regarded as a breeding ground for nuclear and other Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) proliferation.

2. The Sub-Sahara Africa. This is an area filled with the so-called failed states which are a prime territory for terrorist cultivation.

3. Eastern Europe. With the new and assertive Russian Federation, this theatre is rapidly moving up in France's strategic vision list.

4. The Asian Continent. As the current economic environment continues to grow in the area, so does the possibility of a regional conflict.

At the heart of France's military and political vision lay its objective of maintaining a credible and powerful nuclear strategic force as deterrence. The force compromised the backbone of the Nation's strategic and tactical vision. With the removal of its tactical surface-to-surface missile platforms, France was left with two fully operational Nuclear Delivery Systems: the nuclear powered ballistic missile submarine and the nuclear carrying fighter/bomber.

France operates two fully equipped sea-based squadrons with the sole purpose of nuclear deterrence. The squadron is part of the Charles de Gaulle nuclear powered aircraft carrier's air wing. The Charles de Gaulle is France's most advanced and capable aircraft carrier design. It is also the flag ship of the French Navy and a powerful symbol of the country's ingenuity and sense of national pride.

Charles de Gaul

In September 1980, the French government approved the design and development of two next generation nuclear powered aircraft carriers to replace its aging Clemenceau Class fleet which dated back to the mid 1950s. As the program progressed it became obvious to many inside the Ministry of Defence that the whole program was to be plagued by constant cost overruns and major technical difficulties, nevertheless, the CVN de Gaulle project continued. The carrier's hull was launched in April 1989. Five years later, on May 1994, the Charles de Gaulle was officially launched. As the sea trial period commenced, a number of construction errors began to surface delaying the commissioning of the carrier until May 2001. Even after completion, the carrier's construction mistakes, most noticeable its mistaken catapult measurements; prevented it from utilizing the US-made E-2C Hawkeye Electronic Surveillance Aircraft. Between the fall of 1999 and the autumn of 2000, the carrier's angled flight deck area was lengthened accordingly to the E-2C's takeoff characteristics. There were plans to develop a second Charles de Gaulle class of carrier, most likely a conventionally powered version, but the government experience with the first prototype and the public reactions to the continuing delays had probably put to rest the idea for the time being.


BEAM 211'-4"
DRAUGHT 27'-10"
DISPLACEMENT (Tons) 30000 empty/40600 loaded

Crew Compliment: The boat can accommodate up to 1,150 officers and crewmen, plus 550 aircrew compliment. It can also carry nearly 800 Marines and fifty flag ranked officers.

Machinery: Two Type K-15 nuclear reactors, the same ones that powered the Le Triomphant class of submarines, deliver 300 MW (402,145 shp) and two turbines delivering 56845.21 kW (76,000 shp) powering two massive shafts. Top speed is twenty five knots but sea trials had placed the maximum speed closer to the twenty seven knot level. The aircraft carrier has two 246'-0" US-type C-13F catapults which are able to launch a 23 ton aircraft. A below deck hangar facility is capable of storing twenty to twenty five airframes.

Armament: The Charles de Gaulle is fitted with an advanced Integrated Weapons Systems centred on four Sylver octuple VLS launchers. The launcher carries the ASTER 15 anti-missile missiles. Two Sadral PDMS sextuple launchers for the MISTRAL Surface to Air Missile augment it. There are also eight powerful Giat 20 mm heavy machine guns for close quarter’s engagements. The ship also posses an impressive array of countermeasure devices. Chief among them are four Sagaie ten barrel decoy launchers. A LAD off-board decoy mechanism serves as backup. There are plans to fit a SLAT torpedo decoy platform.

Electronics Package: The Charles de Gaulle is fitted with a vast array of sensors and radar system. The main defensive radar is the DRBJ 11B Air Search Radar which is supplemented by a DRBV 26D Jupiter Air Search Radar a DRBV 15D Air-Surface Radar, two DRBN 34A Navigational Radar and a second generation Arabel 3D Fire and Control Radar System.

Air Complement: Up to forty aircrafts including 24 Super Etendard, 2 E-2C Hawkeyes, 10 Rafale M and 2 SA 365F Dauphin search and rescue platforms.

Currently, the Charles de Gaulle operates two fully operational, nuclear capable Super Etendard strike fighters. The Dassault Company Super Etendard (Standard) Program was designed to meet French military standards following the air combat experiences of the Korean Conflict. The Etendard program had its origins in the mid 1950s and the program ran un-eventually until the first production unit, the Etendard IV-M took to the air for its maiden flight in May 1958. Before the IV-M variant first flight, Dassault had developed four other prototypes that were deemed un-fitted for the French Air Force, but the IV variant enticed the Navy. French Admirals, seeing the potential of this new air platform as a multi role strike-capable fighter, pushed hard for the model to enter production which the aircraft did in the fall of 1959. Between 1961 and the spring of 1965, the French Navy took delivery of 69 IV-M units plus 21 modified frames used as reconnaissance-tanker platforms. All of the Etendard's 90 units served aboard France's two deployed aircraft carriers: the Foch and the Clemenceau. The IV-M would serve the Navy for thirty years, being last unit retired from active service in July 1991. The unexpected successes of the IV-M variant embolden Dassault to develop a replacement for it. They named it the Super Etendard, the new fighter/bomber featured a redesigned Atar 8K-50 engine as well as a strengthened airframe for high speed operations. Revised flaps were installed on the wing structure to ease the aircraft's takeoff motion. Modern navigational systems as well as the revolutionize Thomson Multi Role Radar Array was also fitted into the new platform.

On the morning of October 28th 1974, the first Super Etendard prototype took to the air for the first time. After an extended testing phase, the Super Etendard when into full production mode. By the summer of 1978, the French Navy had received 71 units and was expecting one hundred more. Massive budgetary over expending curtailed the program.

Power Plant SNECMA 11005lb afterburning thrust Atar 8K-50 turbojet engine
Armament Two internal 30mm DEFA Cannons, six hard points. Up to 4630lb of
bombs and rockets
Airframe Dimensions
Length 14.3m
Height 3.86m
Wingspan 9.6m
Total wing area 28.4m/2
Empty 6500kg
Fully Loaded 12000kg
Air Performance
Top Speed 1205kph
Ceiling 13700m
Operational Range 650km
Climb Rate 6000m/per minute

The Super Etendards, are based on the Charles de Gaulle. When the French carrier is not on patrol, its main operational base is at Rade Toulon. Toulon is a southern French city of enormous naval heritage. Conceived initially to be a major military storage facility, construction began in 1599. The facility was upgraded by the infamous Cardinal Richeliu, who wanted to make France a major naval player, between 1604 trough 1610. Known as the Arsenal, the base is home, not only to France's only nuclear powered carrier, but to a complement of submarines and small vessels.

When not on deployment, the Charles de Gaulle air complement sits at station alert in Landivisiau. It was there that France maintains a force of nearly forty available aircraft with twenty more on strategic reserve. The base was first developed in 1963. By February 1965, President de Gaulle inaugurated the facility which has been the centre for naval air operations since then. It is expected that by 2012, Landivisiau will be home of sixty Rafale strike platforms.


The French Navy is receiving deliveries of its newest carrier-based fighter/bomber: the Dassault-designed Rafale MK-3.

Originally, France was a leading member of a European consortium assigned the task to develop the Continent's next advanced fighter/bomber platform, the Eurofighter. The country decided to withdraw from the project and to pursue an indigenous program instead. In 1982, France disclosed to the public its new aircraft program now called the Rafale (Squall). A technological demonstrator was rolled out on December 1986. The (A) version first took to the air on July 4th 1986. The Rafale is a single seat (a two seated variant is also available) aircraft based on a compound sweep delta wing structure similar to that of the Mirage. It posses an all moving canard configuration, a single fin and semi-vented intakes. It has a state-of-the-art fly by wire systems, augmented by an advanced avionic package. The plane's cockpit is fitted with the HOTAS and FLIR, touch sensitive system that allows the pilot a greater degree of integration with the platform than on any previous French aircrafts. The Rafale was first fitted with F1 software packed. The software was updated in the late 1990s to a F1.1 which add more compatibility with the IR-homing version of the Mica AAM and MIDS data-link to allow the Rafale prompt communication with its supporting air package (most likely the E-2C Hawkeyes). Fifty percent of the Rafale's airframe is made up of aluminium-lithium composites.

The Rafale began its first naval testing during 1987 when it clearly demonstrated its ability to handle carrier duties. The flight testing phase of the program concluded in January 1994. The first production version, C-01 introduced a new level of autonomy and stealth to the French fighter. A reshaped wingroot fairing and a goal-coated canopy were introduced as part of France's first true attempt to develop stealth technology. Also, the airframe was littered with antennas attached to the SPECTRA self defence system. A multirole RBE2 radar array was fitted on the recontoured nose cone. The C-01 also, for the first time, demonstrated France's ability to utilize dry-thrust (supercruise). The first naval version of the Rafale was the M-01 which took to the air for its maiden flight on December 12th `1991. The M version had an strengthened undercarriage, an arrest hook and a jump strut nose wheel. The M made its first carrier landing on the Foch in the morning of April 19th 1993. The next Rafale prototype, the two seated B-01, made its maiden flight on April 30th 1993. On December 4th 2000, the first sixty Rafale Ms were accepted by the French Navy.

These aircraft will be part of Flotilla 12 aboard the Charles de Gaulle. It is expected that the Rafale platform (MK-3 for nuclear delivery) would replace the outdated Super Etendard strike aircraft as the Navy's main nuclear delivery platform commencing in the summer of 2010. Reduction in the number of carriers planned by the Navy (only one will be constructed) will also curtail the Rafale's production run.


Power Plant Two SNECMA M88-2 turbofan 16424lb thrust
Armament One 30mm DEFA 791B cannon, 12 hard-points
Airframe Dimensions
Length 15.30m
Height 5.34m
Wingspan 10.90m
Total wing area 28.4m/2
Fully Loaded 19500kg
Air Performance
Top Speed 2130km/h
Ceiling 16765m
Operational Range 1854km
Climb Rate 6000m/per minute

The only nuclear offensive platform employed by the French Navy's Super Etendard fighter/bombers is the advanced, medium range ASMP Ballistic Missile System. The ASMP is designed and produced by Aerospatiale, Space and Strategic System Division at Les Mureaux.

Length 5.38 m
Diameter 300 mm
Propulsion One solid propellant booster and one ONERA Kerosene fueled ram jet engine
Weight 860 kg
Payload Capacity 35000 kg
Operational Range 80 km (Low altitude) 300 km (High altitude)
Guidance Mechanism One Inertial Standalone Computer System
Operational Accuracy 500/350 m
Warhead One- TN-81

The ASMP was first fired in May 1986. In 1988 the missile system became operational with the French Navy. The TN-81 is a miniaturized and hardened nuclear warhead designed specifically for the ASMP platform. The TN-81 is similar to the TN-70/71 in technical sophistication. It is a higher yield warhead though, roughly similar in yield and weight to the W78 Minuteman III warhead. The TN-80/81 has a yield of 300 kt, and a weight of around 200 kg. Development of the TN-81 commenced in late 1974. The improved TN-81 was first tested in 1984 and went into production in 1985. It entered service on July 1988 on the Mirage 2000N platform. It was later deployed on the Super Etendard, and finally replaced the venerable TN-80 on the Mirage IVP in 1991. France is currently developing an improved version of the ASMP, suffixed -A. The -A version will have a larger area of operations (estimated to be between 500 to 600 km) and greater trajectory capabilities at all altitudes. The system is expected to become operational by late 2000. As with the missile, the TN-81 warhead is expected to be replaced by the decade's end.

The French Air Force possessed of fifty nuclear deterrent aircraft. As of today, those are the Mirage 2000N version.

Mirage 2000N

Designed to replace France's aging fleet of Mirage IVP bombers which provided the country's sole aerial nuclear capability.

Mirage IVP

Dassault Company designed the 2000 around the after mentioned ASMP missile. The fist design of the 2000 was revealed to the French government in the summer of 1974. By December 1975, the design had gather the approval of the government and work commenced in earnests. The first prototype flew on March 10th 1978. The two seated (B) version took to the air for its first flight on October 11th 1980. Meanwhile, the (N) version flew for the first on February 2nd 1983. The N version airframe is based on the (B) training type. The frame was strengthened to withstand the high levels of stress associated to high-subsonic, low level flight profile. The N had several modifications that make its unique among France air platforms.

For example, the nose cone housed a Dassault Electronique-Thomson CSF Antilope V radar array which replaced the common RDM/RDI system. The V offered the N version an all terrain following air-to-air, air-to-sea, air-to-ground; advance ground mapping system. The aircraft is also fitted with Dassault Electronique Sabre jammers and a Serval advance warning radar system. It also possess a MATRA Spirale integrated decoy mechanism. Initial order for the N version ran to 100 units, however, constants delays on the Rafale program and the pressing need to replace the outclassed Mirage IIIE, forced the government to procure seventy more units. These were to be employed as conventional delivery platforms.

All of the Mirage N versions are schedule to be replaced by the Rafale F3 bomber beginning in early 2009. As with the Navy air strike arm, all of the Air Force's nuclear strike platforms carry the ASMP missile system.

Power Plant One SNECMA M53 turbofan 16424lb thrust
Armament No internal gun set. Nine hard points.
Airframe Dimensions
Length 14.50m
Height 5.10m
Wingspan 9.10m
Fully Loaded 16005kg
Air Performance
Top Speed 2338km/h
Ceiling 18000m
Operational Range 1480km
Climb Rate 17080m/per minute
Air Army currently operates fifty Mirage 2000N aircrafts on three squadrons. Two, squadrons La Fayette and Dauphine; were based at Luxeuil. Luxeuil is one of France's main operational bases. Located at 47 degrees 66'-59" N and 006 degrees 21'-51" E. The base posses two runways parallel (2433mm and 2315m respectively). The most prominent facility of the base is the dépôt atelier munitions spécialisées (DAMS) or Special Amounitions Storage facility. The Depot is a hardened bunker utilized to house the ASMP stand off missiles.

The other squadron, Limousin, sits at Istres. Located at 43 degrees 31'-28" N and 4 degrees 56'-30" E, north of Marseilles. The base housed another Depot for nuclear weapons storage facility. It also the home base of two multirole squadrons as well as other support units.

It is estimated that the current French Nuclear Weapons Inventory is about 300 warheads diverted into two main delivery systems. There are estimates that the country carry up to 50 more warheads as a strategic reserve force. As impressive as this total is, it pale in comparison to the country's 1992 estimated warhead total of 538 units.

Nuclear Deterrence Force

Platform Delivery System Warheads
Mirage 2000N ASMP 50
Super Etendard ASMP 10

Because President Sarkozy's pledge of reducing the country's nuclear arsenal. It is expected that before the year 2011, France will have a total of 290 operational warheads in its inventory. Still a powerful inventory. One that is only rivaled by the US, Russia and China.

As for the future, France is in the process of establishing an advance simulator computer-based program, featuring the TERA super computer, that will assure the reliability of their nuclear stockpile. France's main nuclear simulator center is located at Bruyeres le Chatel. This simulator, in conjunction with the Accelerateur a Induction radiographie pour L'Imagerie or AIRIX; will provide test data for future nuclear weapons design and development programs

The Encyclopedia of Modern Military Aircraft, editor Paul Eden, Amber Books 2007
Air Power: The Men, Machines and Ideas that Revolutionized War, From Kitty Hawk to Gulf War II, Stephen Budiansky, Penguin Group 2004
Jane's Aircraft Recognition Guide, Gunther Endres and Mike Gething, HarperCollins Books, 2002
Jane's Submarines: War Beneath the Waves From 1776 to the Present Day, Robert Hutchinson, HarperCollins Publishing 2005
The Illustrated World Guide to Submarines, John Parker, Hermes House, 2007
Aircraft Carriers: the World's Greatest Naval Vessels and their Aircraft, Chris Bishop and Chris Chant, MBI Publishing, 2004
The French White Paper on Defence and National Security, French Government