Strike Force (France)


Strike Force (France)

The "force de frappe" (literally "Strike Force"; meant for "dissuasion", i.e. deterrence) is the designation of what used to be a triad of air-, sea- and land-based French Nuclear Forces, part of the military of France. France has the third largest nuclear force in the world, after Russia and the United States (see estimated stockpiles). In March 2008, President Nicolas Sarkozy confirmed reports of the size of France's nuclear arsenal and announced that France will reduce its air-launched nuclear arsenal by a third, leaving the "force de frappe" with fewer than 300 warheads. [cite news|url=http://www.afp.com/english/news/stories/newsmlmmd.0315436ec76e505e2a2ebaa8239ff19d.121.html |title=France to reduce nuclear arsenal, warns of Iran danger |date=March 21, 2008]

History

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. 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 attack independently from NATO, which 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 Vietnam War and afraid of Soviet retaliation against the United States proper, would not come to the aid of its Western European allies.

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 France would represent. The enemy, having more to lose, would therefore refrain from proceeding further (see MAD). The principle was summarized in a statement attributed to 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. ["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."]

De Gaulle's vision of the "Force de Frappe" featured the same "triad" of air-based, land-based, and sea-based means of deterrence deployed by 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 president.

France conducted its first nuclear test in 1960 and operational weapons became available in 1964.

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 (now former) Eastern bloc. This component was declared operational in October 1964 and has been continually modernized since then. In particular, the bomber version of the Mirage IV was retired in 1996 and replaced by the Mirage 2000-N.

A land-based component was added in August 1971 with the commissionning of the 18-silo IRBM launch site at "Plateau d'Albion" in the Vaucluse region. Later, the land element was augmented with the mobile short-range "Pluton" and "Hadès" missiles, designed to be launched from the front lines at approaching Soviet armies. Since it was deemed that a full-scale Soviet invasion of Europe was unlikely to be stopped by conventional forces, these weapons were meant as a "final warning" ("ultime avertissement") which would tell the enemy that further advance would trigger a full-scale nuclear attack on its main cities. The "Pluton", introduced in 1974, was retired in 1993 and its successor, the "Hadès", was produced in limited numbers in the 1990s and placed in storage in 1995 (the last missile was dismantled on June 23, 1997). The Albion site, approaching obsolescence and deemed no longer relevant following the fall of the Soviet Union, was shut down in 1999.

The sea-based component of the triad entered service in December 1971 with the commissioning of "Le Redoutable", France's first ballistic missile submarine. Since then, the sea-based deterrent has expanded to a force of four submarines, two of which are always out on patrol.

Present state

;Land-based componentFrance does not have active IRBMs any more, the IRBM base at the Plateau d'Albion (Vaucluse region) was deactivated in 1999. All army units equipped with SRBMs as the Pluton and Hadès missiles were disbanded at the same time.

;Sea-based componentThe French Navy includes a nuclear strategic branch, the "Force Océanique Stratégique", composed of four nuclear ballistic submarines:
* One "Redoutable"-class unit ("L'Inflexible") of 1970s design, armed with 16 M4 SLBM
* Three "Triomphant"-class SSBNs ("Le Triomphant", "Le Téméraire", and "Le Vigilant") of late 1980s design, armed with 16 of the more modern M45 SLBM. Starting in 2010, the longer-range M51 SLBM will gradually replace the M45. One additional "Triomphant"-class SSBN, "Le Terrible", was launched on March 21, 2008 to replace the aging "L'Inflexible". [BBC, [http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/7308563.stm "France to reduce nuclear warheads"] . March 21, 2008.]

;Air-based componentIt is estimated that France has 60 "ASMP" medium-range attack missiles with nuclear warheads, [fr icon Centre de Documentation et de Recherche sur la Paix et les Conflits, [http://obsarm.org/obsnuc/puissances-mondiales/france-forces.html "Etat des forces nucléaires françaises au 15 août 2004"] ] of which:
* 50 are operated by the Air Force and carried by the Mirage 2000 N long range multirole aircraft, which replaced the Mirage IVA(ttaque)and P(enetration) versions. They are home based at Luxeuil, Istres and Avord air bases;
* 10 are operated by the Aviation navale and carried by the Super Étendard Modernisé. They are home based at Landivisiau Naval Air Base and are operated from the Charles de Gaulle aircraft carrier

In the near future, the new Rafales will replace Mirage 2000Ns and Super Etendards in the nuclear strike role. In their F3 version, Rafales will be able to carry the improved ASMP-A missile.

Notes

ee also

* Nuclear weapons
* List of countries with nuclear weapons
* France and weapons of mass destruction


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