On Friday, the French missile submarine Le Téméraire fired an M51 SLBM off the western coast of France toward the Caribbean Sea, the French Defense Ministry announced.
Le Téméraire is the second-oldest of France’s four Triomphant-class ballistic missile submarines, launched in 1998. Each of the subs can carry 16 SLBMs. In turn, the M51 carries a payload of between six and 10 multiple independently targetable reentry vehicle (MIRV) nuclear warheads, meaning each Triomphant boat could potentially deliver 160 separate nuclear strikes.
However, according to the Arms Control Association, a US-based non-governmental group, Paris has just 300 nuclear warheads available for use. The defense ministry noted no warhead was aboard Friday’s test missile.
A few days before the test, Le Téméraire was spotted leaving port with huge testing antennae attached to its sail, with observers noting they were of the kind used for missile tests.
The other day French NAVY SSBN surprisingly launched M-51 SLBM. Just routine training for the crew or test of newly built M-51 ver. 3 ??— KURYER🤔 (@RSS_40) June 9, 2020
Any idea what was the launch for? pic.twitter.com/HVvqCB2wwm
Defense Minister Florence Parly hailed the test in a Friday statement on Twitter, saying its success “demonstrates our technological excellence and our attachment to French sovereignty. I congratulate all those whose commitment has made this test a success. Their involvement is essential to French nuclear deterrence and to our sovereignty.”
Je félicite toutes celles et tous ceux dont l’engagement a permis le succès de cet essai. Leur implication est essentielle à la dissuasion nucléaire française et à notre souveraineté. pic.twitter.com/gW7gVZL3Ae— Florence Parly (@florence_parly) June 12, 2020
According to French defense observers, the missile traveled 3,700 miles to splash down in the western Sargasso Sea, roughly 400 miles north of Puerto Rico.
Les zones de retombées pour le missile M51, lancé aujourd'hui depuis le sous-marin Le Téméraire dans la baie d'Audierne.— East Pendulum (@HenriKenhmann) June 12, 2020
La portée au sol est moins de 6000 km. La zone d'impact se situe à 650 km des côtes de Porto Rico et de la République dominicaine. pic.twitter.com/MFaaf9s7MJ
At about the same time as the test, airplane tracking service Aircraft Spots noted two electronic intelligence aircraft in the vicinity of the splashdown site: a French Navy Falcon 50 and a US Air Force RC-135S Cobra Ball, the latter of which is explicitly used for tracking missiles.
French Navy Falcon 50 FNY5015 arriving into the area to operate in the same area as ZIGGY11. pic.twitter.com/D7xFyEFUps— Aircraft Spots (@AircraftSpots) June 12, 2020
According to Defense News, this was just the ninth launch of an M51, which was first fired in 2006.