The fireball and long white streak seen in skies above west France on Saturday evening (November 18) was a missile firing test, the Ministry of the Armed Forces has confirmed, saying there was no danger to the public.
The M51.3 strategic ballistic missile was shot without a nuclear payload at around 19:20.
The missile was launched by the Directorate General of Armaments (DGA) from their Landes site (Biscarosse) with the shot going as far as the south of the Medoc and landing in the North Atlantic, several hundred kilometres from the coast.
[#Dissuasion] Tir d'essai réussi pour le missile #M51— Direction générale de l'armement (@DGA) November 18, 2023
La DGA a coordonné et de conduit avec succès un tir d'essai de missile M51 sans charge militaire depuis son site de Biscarrosse.
Il s'agissait du 1er tir d'un missile #M51 en version M51.3.#NotreDéfense @Armees_Gouv pic.twitter.com/pqZy2LJLxD
Reassurance from the ministry
The Ministry of the Armed Forces sought to reassure that this test firing did not present any danger in a press release published on Sunday morning.
"This test was carried out without nuclear payload and in strict compliance with France's international commitments," it said.
The minister, Sébastien Lecornu praised a “successful" testfire on social network platform X (formerly Twitter).
Premier tir d'essai réussi du missile balistique stratégique M51.3 !— Sébastien Lecornu (@SebLecornu) November 18, 2023
Cette évolution pérennise la crédibilité de notre dissuasion nucléaire et démontre l'excellence de notre filière lanceur.
Merci à @DGA, @CEA_Officiel, @ArianeGroup et à tous les acteurs de de ce tir réussi. pic.twitter.com/Rwrgn6FEXq
Major site for the French military
Created in 1962 to continue the tests carried out on French military bases in Algeria, the Landes Test Centre in Biscarrosse has become a major link in the French military programme where the latest missiles are tested.
This DGA site is home to facilities that are unique in Europe. In six decades, nearly 9,000 tests have been carried out from the centre of the Landes.
The ministry said that maintaining operational credibility of France's nuclear weapons was necessary given the international environment, in a press release on the government website.