The SLBM wasn’t launched from a French Navy Le Triomphant-class submarine but from a land based facility: DGA Essais de Missiles in Biscarosse, the missile test site of the French armed forces located in South Western France.
The missile was followed throughout its flight phase by DGA Essais de Missiles. The fallout zone was located in the North Atlantic. This test was carried out without a military nuclear warhead and in strict compliance with France’s international commitments.
This test, carried out within the framework of the M51 programme, demonstrates once again the excellence of the high technology used by French industry in this field.
French ministry of the armed forces statement
As always, Navigational Warnings for the related hazard zones in the Atlantic were published a few days ahead, indicated that a French test was coming:
In addition, the French Navy’s Monge Missile Range Instrumentation Ship (A601) was spotted in at the US Navy base in Norfolk earlier this month. The primary mission of this ship is missile test monitoring:
Also noteworthy, a United States Air Force RC-135S Cobra Ball was in the air during the missile test. The aircraft is a measurement and signature intelligence (MASINT) collector equipped with special electro-optical instruments designed to observe ballistic missile flights at long range:
About M51 SLBM
The M51 is the new generation intercontinental SLBM which started replacing the M45 in 2010. Each missile carries six to ten independently targetable (MIRV or Multiple Independently targeted Reentry Vehicle) TN 75 thermonuclear warheads. TN 75 are being replaced with the new Tête nucléaire océanique (TNO or oceanic nuclear warhead) warheads since 2015. These new warheads are reported to be maneuverable (MARV or Maneuverable Re-entry Vehicle) in order to avoid potential ballistic defenses. The TNO has a yield that is estimated to be greater than or equal to the yield of the TN 75 warhead, 150 kilotons of TNT (kt) with a CEP (circular error probability) of 150 meters.
The three-stage engine of the M51 is directly derived from the solid propellant boosters of the European Ariane 5 space rocket. Open source data indicates an M51 weight of 52,000 kg, a length of 12.0 m and a diameter of 2.3 m. M51 operational range is reported to be 8,000 to 10,000 km with a speed of Mach 25.
The first test launch of an M51 ballistic missile was successfully carried out at Centre d’essais de lancement de missiles (CELM) in Biscarosse, France, on November 9, 2006. The sixth missile test carried out on May 5, 2013, ended in failure. The latest M51 tests in September 2015, July 2016 and June 2020 were all successful.