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France test-fires ballistic missile

By JONATHAN POWELL in London | China Daily Global | Updated: 2023-11-21 09:19

France's nuclear deterrence capabilities have received a significant boost, with the successful test-firing of a M51.3 long-range ballistic missile on Saturday, said its Defense Ministry.

"The flight has allowed us to confirm a major improvement of the missile, which will contribute to the lasting credibility of France's oceanic deterrence in coming decades," the ministry said on Sunday.

It reported that the launch occurred from a site in the Landes region in southwestern France, with the missile being tracked throughout its flight phase and the fallout area identified as being in the North Atlantic, several hundred kilometers from any coast.

The ministry emphasized the necessity of maintaining operational credibility for France's nuclear weapons, given the international environment.

Developed by aerospace company ArianeGroup, a joint venture between Airbus and French defense group Safran, the new M51.3 missile is expected to be deployed into service around 2025, reported Reuters.

The M51.3 missile is a three-stage sea-land strategic ballistic missile designed to be launched from French navy submarines, with its predecessor first test-fired from a ground base in 2006 and from a submarine in 2010, the year the upgrade was commissioned, reported Radio France Internationale, or RFI.

Similar to rockets, ballistic missiles follow elliptic trajectories after launch, often extending beyond the Earth's atmosphere to reach lower space, said RFI.

"First successful test firing of an M51.3 strategic ballistic missile!" Defense Minister Sebastien Lecornu wrote on X.

"This development confirms the credibility of our nuclear deterrent and demonstrates the excellence of our launch sector," he said.

In June, France's President Emmanuel Macron sought to convince some of France's allies in the European Union to look at a more home-grown defense strategy, in contrast to a German-led effort to jointly procure air defense systems from outside Europe.

Some 19 countries, including the Baltic states and various eastern European nations, have since joined the German-led European Sky Shield initiative, a project to build a ground-based integrated European air defense system that includes anti-ballistic missile capability.

France has been challenging the initiative, and Macron has said that, in the long run, the EU needs to have its own strategic autonomy, rather than relying specifically on the United States through NATO.

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