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Friday, November 10, 2006

France Tests Ballistic Missile For Nuclear Deployment

France on Nov. 9 successfully carried out a first test on its new M-51 ballistic missile which is to carry submarine-based nuclear weapons, the defense ministry said.

The unarmed missile was fired over the Bay of Biscay from a launch test center on France’s southern Atlantic coast.

The M51, with a range of some 8,000 kilometers (5,000 miles), is to replace France’s existing submarine-based missiles by 2010.

”This test flight was carried out ... in conformity with all France’s international commitments concerning safety, transparency and non-proliferation,” a ministry statement said.

Defense Minister Michele Alliot-Marie said that the test was needed “to check the performance of future missiles ... and to move to a new phase in the modernisation of our deterrent,” according to the statement.

Manufactured by the European consortium EADS, the M-51 is 12 meters (39 feet) in length and weighs around 50 tons. It has a cruising altitude of 1,000 meters and will carry six nuclear warheads.

France currently deploys the M45 ballistic missile, with a range of 6,000 kilometers, on the four submarines that form its Oceanic Strategic Force (FOST).

In 1996 France dismantled its land-based nuclear missile silos, and its nuclear arsenal is now deliverable exclusively from submarines and aircraft.

In January this year President Jacques Chirac said that the country’s nuclear “force de frappe” could be targeted on countries that sponsor terrorism.
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