Force de Frappe explained

The Force de Frappe (French: strike force), or Force de dissuasion after 1961[1], is the designation of what used to be a triad of air-, sea- and land-based nuclear weapons intended for dissuasion, and consequential deterrence. The French Nuclear Force, part of the Armed Forces of France, is the third largest nuclear-weapons force in the world, following the nuclear triads of the Russian Federation and the United States.

All the land based nuclear French missiles silos were deactivated in 1996. On 27 January 1997, France conducted its last nuclear test before signing the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT). In March 2008, President Nicolas Sarkozy of France confirmed reports giving the actual size of France's nuclear arsenal, and he announced that France will reduce its French Air Force-carried nuclear arsenal by one-third, leaving the Force de Frappe with just under 300 warheads[2] .

History

See also: France and weapons of mass destruction. The decision to arm France with nuclear weapons was made in 1954 by the administration of Pierre Mendès-France under the Fourth Republic.[3] President Charles de Gaulle, upon his return to power in 1958, solidified the initial vision into the well-defined concept of a fully independent Force de Frappe capable of protecting France from a Soviet or other foreign attack, independent of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, which President de Gaulle considered to be dominated by the United States to an unacceptable degree. In particular, France was concerned that in the event of a Soviet invasion of Western Europe, the United States - already bogged down in the War in Vietnam and afraid of Soviet retaliation against the United States proper - would not come to the aid of its Allies in Western Europe. According to deGaulle, France should never trust its defense and therefore its very existence to a foreign and thus unreliable protector. [4]

The strategic concept behind the Force de Frappe is one of countervalue, i.e., the capability of inflicting to a more powerful enemy more damage than the complete destruction of the French population would represent. The enemy, having more to lose, would therefore refrain from proceeding any further (see Mutual Assured Destruction). This principle is usually referred to in the French political debate as dissuasion du faible au fort (Weak-to-strong deterrence) and was summarized in a statement attributed to President de Gaulle himself:

General Pierre Marie Gallois said "Making the most pessimistic assumptions, the French nuclear bombers could destroy ten Russian cities; and France is not a prize worthy of ten Russian cities." [5]

In his book La paix nucléaire (1975), French Admiral de Joybert explained deterrence as:

France carried out its first test of an atomic bomb in Algeria in 1960[6] and some operational French nuclear weapons became available in 1964. Then, France executed its first test of the much more powerful hydrogen bomb over its South Pacific Ocean test range in 1966. This first hydrogen bomb was air-dropped from a strategic bomber - in an already weaponized form.

President de Gaulle's vision of the Force de Frappe featured the same triad of air-based, land-based, and sea-based weaponisation already deployed by both the United States and the Soviet Union. Work on these components had started in the late 1950s and was vigorously accelerated as soon as de Gaulle became the President of France.

Air

Initially, the Force de Frappe consisted of an air-based component of the Command des Forces Aeriennes Strategique (CFAS) of the French Air Force, established in 1955 and operating 40 Sud Aviation Vautour IIB bombers. [7] These bombers were considered marginal for this strategic bomber role and work began almost immediately on a replacement. In May 1956, a requirement for what became the Dassault Mirage IV strategic bomber was drawn up [8] ; this bomber was designed to carry nuclear gravity bombs over targets in the Eastern bloc at supersonic speeds. This component was declared operational in October 1964 and has been continually modernized since then. The Mirage IVP (Penetration) version armed with the ASMP-A missile entered service in 1986. All bomber versions of the Mirage IV were retired in 1996 and replaced by the Mirage 2000 N (which entered service from 1988). The new longer-ranged ASMP-A missile entered service in 2009. The Mirage 2000N is scheduled to be by the Dassault Rafale F3.

Land

The land-based component of the French nuclear triad was added in August 1971 with the operational readiness of the 18-silo Intermediate Range Ballistic Missile arsenal at the Plateau d'Albion in the Vaucluse region of southern France. Later, this land-based component was augmented with the mobile short-range Pluton missile and Hadès missile, which were designed to be launched from the front lines at any approaching foreign army. To defend against a Soviet/Warsaw Pact invasion of West Germany, these could be deployed with the French Army in the French Zone of Germany in western Germany.

Since the French military judged that a full-scale invasion of Western Europe by the Soviet Union and its Warsaw Pact Allies was unlikely to be stopped by conventional armaments, these short-range nuclear missiles were meant as a "final warning" (ultime avertissement in French) which would tell the aggressor that any further advances would trigger a nuclear armageddon upon its major cities and other important targets.

The Pluton missile, introduced in 1974, was retired from service and scrapped beginning in 1993, and its successor, the Hadès missile, was produced in limited numbers during the early 1990s, and then withdrawn from the Army and placed in arsenal storage in 1995. Next, the French Government decided to eliminate all of these missiles, and the last Hadès was dismantled on 23 June 1997. That was the end of the French mobile land-based nuclear missiles.

The French fixed IRBMs at the Albion missile base, were considered to be approaching obsolescence, and also deemed to be no longer necessary following the fall of the Soviet Union, were also disposed of, and the Albion missile base was permanently shut down in 1999. Thus, the land-based missile leg of the French nuclear triad has been eliminated.

Sea

The ocean-based, mobile component of the French nuclear triad entered service in December 1971 with the commissioning of its first ballistic missile submarine, the nuclear submarine Le Redoutable, which carried 16 M4 Intermediate Range Ballistic Missiles similar to the American and British Polaris missiles.

Since then, the ocean-based French nuclear weapons have been expanded to a squadron of four submarines, two of which are always kept out of port and on patrol.[9] Also, since 1985, some of the French ballistic missile submarines have grown old and obsolescent, have been retired from service, and have been replaced by newer missile submarines, also with 16 missile tubes apiece, and carrying more-advanced French M45 missile. A new submarine Le Terrible was put into service on 20 September 2010 armed with the M51 missile similar to the American Trident II.

The Aeronautique Navale (Aeronavale) or French Naval Aviation has operated a fleet of nuclear-armed aircraft since 1962, with the Dassault Etendard IV on its Clemenceau class aircraft carriers. The Etendard was armed with AN-52 nuclear gravity bombs. In 1978, the Dassault Super Etendard entered service, giving the Aeronavale a stand-off nuclear strike ability via its ASMP nuclear missiles. The Clemenceaus were retired in 1997 and 2000. However, the Super Etendard remains in service on the succeeding R91 Charles-de-Gaulle.

The current French nuclear aircraft carrier vessel R91 Charles-de-Gaulle, operating since 2010, carries Rafale F3 fighters armed with the upgraded ASMP-A nuclear missiles.

Present state

Land-based component

France no longer possesses land-based nuclear missiles. The IRBM base at the Plateau d'Albion (Vaucluse region) was deactivated in 1999, and its missiles scrapped. All French Army units equipped with short-range missiles such as the Pluton and the Hadès have also been disbanded, and their missiles scrapped.

All of the nuclear warheads from the above have been dismantled, and their fissile nuclear materials recycled.

Sea-based component

See also: Force océanique stratégique. The French Navy includes a nuclear strategic branch, the Force Océanique Stratégique, which has contained as many as five nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines.

The last of these ballistic missile submaries, the L'Inflexible (S 615) was retired from service and sent to the boneyard in 2008.

Air-based component

It is estimated that France has about 60 ASMP medium-range air-to-ground missiles with nuclear warheads,[11] of which:

The locations of all of the nuclear missiles are a secret (several storage facilities are known to the public, but the number of warheads inside is highly classified and changes frequently).

See also

Notes and References

  1. Gunston, Bill. Bombers of the West. New York: Charles Scribner's and Sons; 1973. p104
  2. News: France to reduce nuclear arsenal, warns of Iran danger. 21 March 2008.
  3. Gunston, Bill. Bombers of the West. New York: Charles Scribner's and Sons; 1973. p103
  4. Gunston, Bill. Bombers of the West. New York: Charles Scribner's and Sons; 1973. p104
  5. Gunston, Bill. Bombers of the West. New York: Charles Scribner's and Sons; 1973. p105
  6. News: France Explodes Her First A-Bomb in a Sahara Test. W. Granger. Blair. New York Times. 13 February 1960. 1. 5 November 2010.
  7. Gunston, Bill. Bombers of the West. New York: Charles Scribner's and Sons; 1973. p105
  8. Gunston, Bill. Bombers of the West. New York: Charles Scribner's and Sons; 1973. p105
  9. http://www.fas.org/nuke/guide/france/theater/pluton.htm FAS.org
  10. http://www.meretmarine.com/article.cfm?id=112277 Mer et Marine : Toute l'actualité maritime
  11. Centre de Documentation et de Recherche sur la Paix et les Conflits, Etat des forces nucléaires françaises au 15 août 2004