What will France test in the coming weeks? Hypersonic or ballistic missile?

PARIS, (BM) – In June 2020, the nuclear missile launcher [SNLE] Le Téméraire successfully launched an M51.2 ballistic missile from the tip of Penmarc’h [Finistère], opex360 reports. Four areas that had been the subject of navigational warnings had been previously defined. The first three were where a stage of the craft was to fall into the water—the last one corresponded to the terminal impact.

However, on April 27, the navigation warnings HYDROLANT 1140-1121 and NAVAREA IV 337/21 came into effect for three weeks. And as with the SNLE Le Téméraire firing, they are defining four areas in which it will be potentially dangerous to navigate until May 21. But the similarities end there.

Indeed, according to the map established by the SatTrackCam Leiden site, which reported the existence of these two navigation warnings, the first zone corresponds to the General Directorate of Armaments [DGA] “Missile tests” located in Biscarrosse. And if the following two seem to characterize the trajectory of a ballistic missile, the last, located north of Bermuda, deviates markedly from it. All this suggests that a device will be released from the missile, a priori be launched.

As the DGA is very discreet about its intentions, two hypotheses can be put forward to explain the dissemination of these two warnings. The first is that the DGA Missile Tests would be preparing to test the VMA-X, the first French hypersonic weapon.

In January 2019, the Minister of the Armed Forces, Florence Parly, announced a contract for a “hypersonic glider demonstrator”. And to add: “Many nations are acquiring it, we have all the skills to achieve it: we can not wait any longer.” And it was about going fast since a first flight was then expected in 2021.

Since then, the DGA has awarded a contract to ArianeGroup, which was to rely on “research from ONERA [National Office for Aerospace Studies and Research] to produce a prototype hypersonic glider by 2021”. In the columns of the daily Les Echos, the General Delegate for Armaments, Joël Barre, then specified that “sent by a probe rocket, the non-propelled glider must bounce off the layers of the atmosphere at speed greater than Mach 5″.

In addition, Mr. Barre also explained that this first demonstrator would be used to assess the capabilities of such technology. “Mastering very high-speed maneuverability in layers of the lower atmosphere requires inventing a new guidance system and finding new heat-resistant materials, which poses immense challenges,” he argued.

However, the second hypothesis is that it could be a test of the M51.3 missile, the latest evolution of the M51 whose development began in 2014. With a more extended range of several hundred kilometers, this machine will have an improved third stage to outsmart future missile defense capabilities. As a reminder, it must enter staffing within the Strategic Oceanic Force [FOST] from 2025.

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