Tuesday, February 28, 2006

French Nuclear Weapons Upgrade

Strangely enough, it is the French who are most likely to use a nuclear weapon in warfare under current political conditions. Not the U.S., not the Russians. In an effort to meet the Iranian threat and provide deterrence against an attack by any Middle Eastern or Central Asian country, France has made her nuclear weapons strategy more realistically usable.

France secretly upgrades capacity of nuclear arsenal:
France has secretly modified its nuclear arsenal to increase the strike range and accuracy of its weapons. The move comes weeks after President Jacques Chirac warned that states which threatened the country could face the "ultimate warning" of a nuclear retaliation.

A military source quoted yesterday by the Libération newspaper claimed France had tinkered with its nuclear weapons to improve their strike capability and make this threat more credible.

The source said there had been two major changes: the bombs can now be fired at high altitude to create an "electromagnetic impulsion" to destroy the enemy's computer and communications systems; and the number of nuclear warheads has been reduced to increase the missiles' range and precision.
The missiles at issue here are the submarine launched M45 SLBM. France has 4 ballistic missile submarines, each of which carries 16 of these missiles. Each missile carries 6 warheads. Now they only carry one. This will increase the range and accuracy of the missile, and allow for targeting a single, remote site. With civilian populations not under significant threat, the use of this weapon becomes much more plausible.
In reducing the number of warheads, down to one per missile in some cases, the weapon is lighter and has a longer range. It can also be targeted more accurately.

Libération speculates that while potential targets are "secret", it is clear they include the Middle East or Asia, and that its military contacts suggest the changes are aimed at adding "flexibility" to France's nuclear deterrent.

"These evolutions are aimed at better taking into account the psychology of the enemy, defence minister Michèle Alliot-Marie said after President Chirac's warning in January.

In a speech to MPs, she added: "A potential enemy may think that France, given its principles, might hesitate to use the entire force of its nuclear arsenal against civilian populations.

"Our country has modified its capacity for action and from now on has the possibility to target the control centres of an eventual enemy."
This bears watching. If the Iranians think that they are not in a very seriously dangerous position, then they are very badly mistaken.

For more on French nuclear weapons see this at GlobalSecurity.org.

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