April 19th, the French Le Terrible sub fired an M51 ballistic missile

PARIS, FRANCE — The French Navy has conducted a successful test of the M51 strategic ballistic missile. This is the sixth test of the Le Terrible submarine missile in a row, the French Ministry of Defense announced in a press release through its official Twitter account.

The M51 is a French ballistic missile developed to be launched from sea platforms. It entered service for the first time nearly 13 years ago – in 2010. The developer and manufacturer of the rocket are Ariane Group, which is a joint venture between Airbus and Safran.

French Defense Minister Sebastien Lecornu said that during today’s test, the M51 missile was without a warhead. The M51 is part of the military deterrence of French defense and national security. Today’s test was under the control and supervision of the Directorate General of Armaments [DGA] and the Ministry of Defense of France. The French ministry said the test was carried out “in strict compliance with France’s international commitments.”

M51 is 12 meters high and has a diameter of 2.3 meters. The standard warhead is equivalent to 6 to 10 TN 75 MIRV 110 kiloton [kt] [420 TJ], with penetration aids. In 2015, however, France developed another warhead for the same missile, which uses the new Tête nucléaire océanique 100 kt / CEP 150–200 m.

April 19th, the French Le Terrible sub fired an M51 ballistic missile
Photo credit: Twitter

The ballistic missile is powered by a three-stage solid-fuel rocket engine. The maximum flight speed is Mach 25 and it is capable of reaching a target between 8,000 km and 10,000 km away. The guidance system is astro-inertial guidance, but Paris plans to develop a version with a Galileo guidance system. France is the sole operator of this missile.

Le Terrible

The naval platform that carried out the test was the French Triomphant-class submarine Le Terrible [S619]. Le Terrible first tested the M51 on 27 January 2010. This submarine is nuclear class. It can dive to a depth of 400 meters and travel at a maximum speed of over 25 knots [46 km/h; 29 mph].

The submarine has an integrated system for Electronic warfare and decoys. It can carry 16 M45 or M51 nuclear ballistic missiles. Has attack anti-ship capability via four 533 mm [21 in] tubes for F17 torpedoes. The submarine is also armed with the Exocet SM39 cruise missile.

April 19th, the French Le Terrible sub fired an M51 ballistic missile
Photo credit: DGA

The French ministry also said of today’s test that “this firing confirms the operational capacity of the SSBN Le Terrible’s deterrent weapon system, which is currently in IPER or ‘large fairing’ and will soon be back in the operational cycle. It once again demonstrates the excellence of the defense industry of France”.


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