Force de Frappe

Force de Frappe
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The Force de Frappe (French: strike force) is the designation of what used to be a triad of air-, sea- and land-based nuclear weapons intended for dissuasion, and consequential deterrence. The French Nuclear Force, part of the Armed Forces of France, is the third largest nuclear-weapons force in the world, following the nuclear triads of the Russian Federation and the United States.

In March 2008, President Nicolas Sarkozy of France confirmed reports giving the actual size of France's nuclear arsenal, and he announced that France will reduce its French Air Force-carried nuclear arsenal by one-third, leaving the Force de Frappe with just under 300 warheads.[1]



The decision to arm France with nuclear weapons was made in the mid-1950s by the administration of Pierre Mendès-France under the Fourth Republic. President Charles de Gaulle, upon his return to power in 1958, solidified the initial vision into the well-defined concept of a fully independent Force de Frappe capable of protecting France from a Soviet or other foreign attack, independent of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, which President de Gaulle considered to be dominated by the United States to an unacceptable degree. In particular, France was concerned that in the event of a Soviet invasion of Western Europe, the United States - already bogged down in the War in Vietnam and afraid of Soviet retaliation against the United States proper - would not come to the aid of its Allies in Western Europe.

The strategic concept behind the Force de Frappe was the so-called dissuasion du faible au fort (Weak-to-strong deterrence), i.e., the capability of inflicting to a more powerful enemy more damage than the complete destruction of the French population would represent. The enemy, having more to lose, would therefore refrain from proceeding any further (see Mutual Assured Destruction). This principle was summarized in a statement attributed to President de Gaulle himself:

Within ten years, we shall have the means to kill 80 million Russians. I truly believe that one does not light-heartedly attack people who are able to kill 80 million Russians, even if one can kill 800 million French, that is if there were 800 million French. [2][citation needed]

In his book La paix nucléaire (1975), French Admiral de Joybert explained deterrence as:

Sir, I have no quarrel with you, but I warn you in advance and with all possible clarity that if you invade me, I shall answer at the only credible level for my scale, which is the nuclear level. Whatever your defenses, you shan't prevent at least some of my missiles from reaching your home and cause the devastation that you know. So, renounce your endeavour and let us stay good friends.[3]

France carried out its first test of an atomic bomb in Algeria in 1960[4] and some operational French nuclear weapons became available in 1964. Then, France executed its first test of the much more powerful hydrogen bomb over its South Pacific Ocean test range in 1966. This first hydrogen bomb was air-dropped from a strategic bomber - in an already weaponized form.

President de Gaulle's vision of the Force de Frappe featured the same triad of air-based, land-based, and sea-based means of deterrence already deployed by both the United States and the Soviet Union. Work on these components had started in the late 1950s and was vigorously accelerated as soon as de Gaulle became the President of France.


Initially, the Force de Frappe consisted of an air-based component only around the newly developed Dassault Mirage IV strategic bomber, designed to carry gravity bombs over targets in the Eastern bloc. This component was declared operational in October 1964 and has been continually modernized since then. The bomber version of the Mirage IV was retired in 1996 and replaced by the Mirage 2000 N and Dassault Rafale F3 with new ASMP-A missile.


A Pluton missile mobile launcher.

The land-based component of the French nuclear triad was added in August 1971 with the operational readiness of the 18-silo Intermediate Range Ballistic Missile arsenal at the Plateau d'Albion in the Vaucluse region of southern France. Later, this land-based component was augmented with the mobile short-range Pluton missile and Hadès missile, which were designed to be launched from the front lines at any approaching foreign army. To defend against a Soviet/Warsaw Pact invasion of West Germany, these could be deployed with the French Army in the French Zone of Germany in westmost Germany.

Since the French military judged that a full-scale invasion of Western Europe by the Soviet Union and its Warsaw Pact Allies was unlikely to be stopped by conventional armaments, these short-range nuclear missiles were meant as a "final warning" (ultime avertissement in French) which would tell the aggressor that any further advances would trigger a nuclear armageddon upon its major cities and other important targets.

The Pluton missile, introduced in 1974, was retired from service and scrapped beginning in 1993, and its successor, the Hadès missile, was just produced in limited numbers during the early 1990s, and then withdrawn from the Army and placed in arsenal storage in 1995. Next, the French Government decided to eliminate all of these missiles, and the last Hadès was dismantled on June 23, 1997. That was the end of the French mobile land-based nuclear missiles.

The French fixed IRBMs at the Albion missile base, were considered to be approaching obsolescence, and also deemed to be no longer necessary following the fall of the Soviet Union, were also disposed of, and the Albion missile base was permanently shut down in 1999. Thus, the land-based missile leg of the French nuclear triad has been eliminated.


The ocean-based, mobile component of the French nuclear triad entered service in December 1971 with the commissioning of its first ballistic missile submarine, the nuclear submarine Le Redoutable, which carried 16 M4 Intermediate Range Ballistic Missiles similar to the American and British Polaris missiles.

Since then, the ocean-based French nuclear deterrent has been expanded to a squadron of four submarines, two of which are always kept out of port and on patrol.[5] Also, since 1985, some of the French ballistic missile submarines have grown old and obsolescent, have been retired from service, and have been replaced by newer missile submarines, also with 16 missile tubes apiece, and carrying more-advanced French M45 missile. A new submarine Le Terrible was put into service on 20 September 2010 armed with the M51 missile similar to the American Trident II.

Moreover the French nuclear aircraft carrier vessel R91 Charles-de-Gaulle operates since 2010 with Rafale F3 fighters armed with ASMP-A nuclear missiles.

Present state

The Redoutable, the first French nuclear missile submarine.
Mirage 2000N

Land-based component

France no longer possesses land-based nuclear missiles. The IRBM base at the Plateau d'Albion (Vaucluse region) was deactivated in 1999, and its missiles scrapped. All French Army units equipped with short-range missiles such as the Pluton and the Hadès have also been disbanded, and their missiles scrapped.

All of the nuclear warheads from the above have been dismantled, and their fissile nuclear materials recycled.

Sea-based component

The French Navy includes a nuclear strategic branch, the Force Océanique Stratégique, which has contained as many as five nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines.

  • Six Redoutable class submarines, armed with 16 M4 IRBMs entered service between 1971 and 2008.

The last of these ballistic missile submaries, the L'Inflexible (S 615) was retired from service and sent to the boneyard in 2008.

Air-based component

It is estimated that France has about 60 ASMP medium-range air-to-ground missiles with nuclear warheads,[7] of which:

The actual locations of all of the nuclear missiles is always a tightly-held secret (there is several storages facilities known but the number of heads inside is highly classified and for safety reasons it often changes).

See also


  1. ^ "France to reduce nuclear arsenal, warns of Iran danger". March 21, 2008. 
  2. ^ Dans dix ans, nous aurons de quoi tuer 80 millions de Russes. Eh bien je crois qu'on n'attaque pas volontiers des gens qui ont de quoi tuer 80 millions de Russes, même si on a soi-même de quoi tuer 800 millions de Français, à supposer qu'il y eût 800 millions de Français.
  3. ^ Les Redoutable : Histoire d'une aventure technique, humaine et stratégique, meretmarine
  4. ^ Blair, W. Granger (13 February 1960). "France Explodes Her First A-Bomb in a Sahara Test". New York Times: p. 1. Retrieved 2010-11-05. 
  5. ^
  6. ^ a b Mer et Marine : Toute l'actualité maritime
  7. ^ (French) Centre de Documentation et de Recherche sur la Paix et les Conflits, Etat des forces nucléaires françaises au 15 août 2004

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  • Force de frappe — (wörtlich: „Schlagkraft“, offiziell: Force de dissuasion nucléaire de la France) ist die landläufige Bezeichnung für die Atomstreitmacht der Französischen Streitkräfte. Inhaltsverzeichnis 1 Zur Bezeichnung 2 Hintergründe der Entstehung 3… …   Deutsch Wikipedia

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  • Force de Frappe — [fɔrsdə frap ], die; [frz., eigtl. = Schlagkraft]: Gesamtheit der mit Atomwaffen ausgerüsteten französischen militärischen Einheiten. * * * Force de frappe   [fɔrsdə frap; französisch »Schlagkraft«] die, , veraltete Bezeichnung für die… …   Universal-Lexikon

  • Force de Frappe — [fɔrsdə frap] die; <aus gleichbed. fr. force de frappe, eigtl. »Schlagkraft«> die Gesamtheit der mit Atomwaffen eigener Herstellung ausgerüsteten [geplanten] franz. militärischen Einheiten …   Das große Fremdwörterbuch

  • force de frappe — /fors də frap/ noun (French) A strike force, esp a nuclear one • • • Main Entry: ↑force …   Useful english dictionary

  • Force de Frappe — 〈 [fɔ̣rsdəfrạp] f.; Gen.: ; Pl.: unz.〉 französische Atomstreitmacht [Etym.: frz., »nukleare Schlagkraft«] …   Lexikalische Deutsches Wörterbuch

  • force de frappe — /fr. ˌfɔʀsdəˈfʀap/ [loc. fr., propr. «forza d urto»] loc. sost. f. inv. 1. potenza nucleare, arsenale nucleare 2. (est.) deterrente …   Sinonimi e Contrari. Terza edizione

  • Force de Frappe — [ fɔrs də frap ], die; <französisch> (Gesamtheit der französischen Atomstreitkräfte) …   Die deutsche Rechtschreibung

  • Force de frappe — Cette page d’homonymie répertorie les différents sujets et articles partageant un même nom. Force de frappe (Aftenlandet) est un film danois réalisé par Peter Watkins en 1977. Force de frappe (Counterstrike) est une série télévisée franco… …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Force de frappe — Sumarino clase Le Redoutable, primer submarino nuclear francés …   Wikipedia Español

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