Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

M-5 / M-51

In 1992, the French defense ministry launched the development of the new generation MSBS, the M-5. This continues the tradition of improvements in the MSBS system since 1971, when the first system, M-1, entered service.

The latest development of the MSBS (Mer-Sol-Balistique-Stratégique) family was the M-5 SLBM planned for the seventh French SSBN Le Triomphant, which entered service in 1995, and the first of four new SSBN known in France as the SNLE-NG (Sous-marin Nucléaire Lanceur d'Engins - Nouvelle Génération). The first SNLEs werer initially expected to carry the improved M-45 variant SLBM, until the M-5 availability in 2010. The `Le Triomphant' submarines are fitted with 16 SLBM launch tubes. Full-scale development of M-5 was scheduled to start in 1993. A proposal was made to develop a land-based version for location in the Plateau d'Albion as a replacement for the S-3 missiles, with up to 10 land-based M-5 missiles (known as S-5) located in the S-3 silos, but this proposal was cancelled in 1993 in favor of adapting the existing M-4 design.

The three stage solid propellant M-5 missile is to have a range of 11000 km, together with modern penetration aids capable of matching the perceived upgrades to the Moscow anti-ballistic missile system. The missile is around 12.0 m long, with a body diameter of 2.3 m and a launch weight of 48000 kg. The payload was initailly reported as being between 6 to 10 MIRV using the TN 76 nuclear warhead with an expected yield of 100 kT. It is expected that penetration aids will be carried.

The M-5 missile was planned for introduction into service in 2010 as a replacement for the M-4 and M-45 SLBM, with full-scale development scheduled to start in 1993.

In February 1996, the President of France confirmed the pursuit of the program with certain changes in specifications to conform with budgetary constraints. The new missile, the M-51, would nonetheless conserve the essential characteristics planned for the M-5. Falling under the concept of strict sufficiency, this program was reorientated towards the version M 51, with a range of about 6,000 kilometers and able to carry the nuclear heads of new generation (TNO (Têtes Nucléaires Océaniques)) after 2015.

During the night of 17-18 April 2001 France carried out the first test firing of part of the the M-51. Although the test involved an M45 ballistic missile, the main purpose was to assess materials and equipment for the M51. The missile was fired from the nuclear submarine Inflexible off the Brittany coast a distance of more than 5,000 km across the Atlantic to a point near Guyana, in South America.

The first test flight for the M51 itself was not due until 2005, while delivery was originally slated to begin in 2008. The first flight test took place in 2006, from a launchpad, followed by another one in 2007. The third flight test took place in 2008 from a submerged tank. Development of the M51 was completed in mid-2009 with the M51 test fired for the first time from Le Terrible SNLE in 2010.

The M51 missiles have a range of around 6,000 km and cost 32.7 billion francs without warheads (E5bn, $4bn) to develop rather than 42 billion for the M5. This saving comes at the cost of a reduced range. The M5 was to be able to carry a 1,400 kg payload to a range of 6,000 km or a 200 kg as far as 14,000 km, in the latter case with one or two rather than six nuclear warheads.

The M-51 is a three-stage missile with a total mass of over 50 tonnes (compared to 35 for the M4). The stages use solid propulsion and are equipped with flexible nozzles. Their structures are made by filament winding of carbon fiber/epoxy material. The system takes the evolution of the threat, and new types of defenses into account. The M-51 missile will have multiple warheads. The volume and mass available for the payload (nuclear warheads and pen-aides) are greatly superior to the M4. Range, significantly higher than 5000 km, will among other advantages, extending the patrol area of the submarine fleet.

Le Terrible, the fourth Le Triomphant-class SSBN, was ordered on 28 July 2000 and entered service in 2010. It was the first to carry the first of the new M51 strategic missiles, in a version known as the M51.1. Plans called for, starting in 2015, progressively replacing M51.1 missiles with a new variant, the M51.2. To be equipped with new TNO warheads, the M51.2 will have an intercontintental range.

Comparison of the M4 SLBM with the M45 and the M51 SLBMs

Prime contractor EADS (formerly Aérospatiale, Space and Strategic Systems Division, Les Mureaux)
VersionM-5 M-51
Length 12.0 m 12.0m
Body diameter 2.3 m 2.3 m
Launch weight 48000 kg 53,000 kg
Payload 6-10 MIRV
Warhead Nuclear 100 kT each
Guidance Inertial Inertial
Propulsion 3 stage solid 3 stage solid
Range 11,000 km 6,000 km
Accuracy n/k n/k

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