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France ups defence and deploys three of its four nuclear submarines

It is the first time it has had three such vessels at sea at once since the end of the 1980s. It comes as the military successfully test an upgraded nuclear cruise missile

France and the UK are Europe’s only countries armed with nuclear weapons, with four ballistic missile submarines each Pic: byvalet / Shutterstock

France has increased its defence measures by deploying two more of its ballistic missile submarines since the start of March.

The move is undoubtedly in response to Russia’s move to invade Ukraine on February 24. 

It means the country now has three of its four submarines capable of firing nuclear warheads at sea. This is the first time it has had so many out since the end of the 1980s, newspaper Le Télégramme reports.

Journalist Jean-Marc Tangui, a specialist in defence and the person who reported the fact that the third submarine had been sent to sea, called the decision “rational”. 

“France is multiplying its ‘life insurance’ by three,” he said.

He also said it was also to protect the vessels.

“You have to understand that a submarine that is in the docks or undergoing refits can very easily be hit by a missile or be sabotaged.”

In normal times, only one of the four vessels is out at sea, while another undergoes refits or cleaning (a practice known as careening).

A second vessel was sent out on March 1, France Inter reported, and the third on or around March 17, according to Mr Tangui. 

The combined theoretical firepower of these three submarines, each armed with 16 missiles carrying six warheads, is equivalent to almost 2,000 times the Hiroshima bomb. 

The move to deploy three ballistic missile submarines is generally seen as a dissuasion tactic, rather than an overt act of aggression. 

France and the UK are the only European countries with nuclear weapon capacities. The UK also has four ballistic missile submarines.

France successfully tests nuclear missile

The deployment of the two extra submarines comes as France successfully managed a test launch of an upgraded nuclear air-launched cruise missile from a Dassault Rafale fighter jet today (March 25). 

The air-sol moyenne portée (ASMP-A) missile was not charged, and was fired from a jet that took off from a military base in Gironde (Nouvelle-Aquitaine). 

The Ministry of Armed Forces said that the test launch of the ASMP-A was a prerequisite for the missile being used as part of the Air Force and Navy’s defences. 

The ASMP-A is designed to carry an airborne nuclear warhead of about 300 kilotonnes, about 20 times the power of the Hiroshima bomb.

This missile is described as "pre-strategic" and is intended to be used as a warning ahead of a possible massive strike by the ballistic missiles fitted to nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines.

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