The Strategic Air Force, branch of the French Air Force dedicated to airborne nuclear deterrence, successfully conducted a test of the Rafale nuclear deterrence capability.
The exercises, called “Poker”, are conducted several times per year without much publicity. But this time, the French Defense minister Florence Parly congratulated the country’s air force in an official statement on February 4, 2019.
The test was carried out by a Rafale B from La Fayette 2/4 Fighter Squadron that took off from the Air Base 113 in Saint-Dizier, north east of France.
The 11 hours operation across the French territory included “all phases proper to a deterrent nuclear mission“: high-altitude flight with an inflight refuelling using a C135 and A330 Phoenix from the 31st Strategic Supply and Transport Aerial Escadre, followed by a very low altitude and high speed penetration in highly defended areas from both ground-air and air-to-air Anti Access/Area Denial systems, and ending with a precision firing of an ASMP-A missile (obviously without nuclear charge), on a test area of the DGA (the French Defense procurement and technology agency) missile testing center, in Biscarrosse, south west of France.
The ASMP-A system, developed by European manufacturer MBDA, is a cruise missile with a range of 500 kilometers (310 miles) that can carry the latest generation of French nuclear charges, named TNA, of 300 kilotons.
The unusual communication on this mission comes just days after the United States and Russia pulled out of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty. This treaty signed 32 years ago forbade countries to possess ballistic missiles and cruise missiles with a range between 500 km and 5 500 km.
Not only does France possesses the third largest nuclear stockpile in the world, but it also is one of the two European countries along with the United Kingdom that does not rely on the United States for its deterrence through NATO’s nuclear sharing arrangements.
With the possibility of another arms race between global powers, it seems sensible for France to regularly show to the world the credibility of its deterrence. “We Europeans cannot remain spectators of our own security,” Parly said on February 5, 2019 at a conference in Portugal.