"France got The Bomb, but don't you grieve
'Cause they're on our side... I believe."
France tested its first nuclear weapon in 1960. It conducted nuclear tests for longer than most other nations, up until 1996.
Deciding to go it alone, without US help, meant some technologies arrived rather later than others. Traditionally, the nuclear launch codes are the last thing a departing president gives the new one (it's important enough to the French that any media report of the change in leadership will mention "giving the codes").
These weapons are
Boomers and Their Missiles
These are known as SNLE (Sous-marin Nucléaire Lanceur d'Engins, literally Devices Launcher Nuclear Submarine (ship)) in French, equivalent to the U.S. Navy terms SSBN (Submarine Ship Ballistic missile launcher Nuclear powered). (Boomers are nuclear-missile subs, for you civvies
Le Redoutable class
The first French SNLE, authorised in 1963 and not fully operational until the early 1970s. Four built (Le Redoutable
, Le Terrible L'Indomptable
and Le Foudroyant
). Water-cooled reactor, one propeller. Capable of 25 knots dived.
The first French SLBM. Two-stage and solid-fuelled, it had a range of 2400 km (1490 miles) and carried a single 500-KT warhead.
Le Triomphant class
The second generation of French SSBNs, the first unit entered service in the mid-90s armed with the M45 missile. The fourth and last one, currently undergoing trials, is the first to be equipped with the much improved M51 rocket. The Triomphant was a quantum leap in terms of discretion (shrouded pump-jet propeller, suspended machinery, advanced signature management) and the coming Barracuda-class SSNs will build on this technical legacy.
Other Naval Nukes
Since the last diesel-electric subs (of the Agosta class) were retired in the 90s, the French Navy only operates SSNs of the Rubis-Amethyste class (although modern SSKs are offered for export, like the commercially successful Scorpene). Those are famous for being the smallest SSNs in the world. The whole class was upgraded to the Amethyste standard. The first unit of the successor Barracudas is currently under construction.
Clemenceau-class (Clemenceau and Foch) CV
These two carriers served from 1961 to 2000, a career that involved support in Kosovo, patrols off Lebanon and apparently two F-8 Crusaders accidentally starting a dogfight in 1977 with South Yemeni MiG-21s in a case of mistaken identity that was resolved before anyone launched weapons.
was sold on to Brazil, where it remains in service as NAe São Paulo
is currently being scrapped in Hartlepool after India and Egypt rejected the ship as too toxic.
- Foch is sunk in Red Storm Rising.
- A 1985 Citroen ad was shot on Clemenceau, racing against a Super Etendard.
Charles de Gaulle CVN
A nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, entering service in 1999. Has suffered from considerable technical issues, chiefly faulty propellers. Was engaged in Afghanistan operations where its Super Etendards and Rafales were used to bomb Taliban positions in support of coalition forces.
A new conventionally-powered carrier under development which will share some features with the UK's Queen Elizabeth
class. The political decision to actually build PA2 (Porte-Avions 2) is still to come and expected for 2012... at the earliest. There is a strong push to ditch the conventional CVF design and instead build a second nuclear-powered carrier using lessons learnt from the CdG. The main hurdle is financial, as the Navy also needs to fund the renewal of the frigate fleet (using the Franco-Italian FREMM design).
Land-Based Ballistic Missiles'''
France withdrew all its land-based ballistic missiles in 1999.
Aircraft and Air-Launched Missiles
Super Etendard (Battle standard)
A carrier-based subsonic strike fighter, similar in concept to the A-7 Corsair II, but far less ugly. Soon to be retired, these planes were famously used in the anti-ship role by both Argentina and Iraq.
The Mirage IV was a strategic high-performance bomber; it resembled an enlarged version of the famous Mirage III. Both were produced by the same manufacturer, Dassault (the nom de guerre
of the earlier French Resistance fighter, brother to the one who founded the company). It was designed to strike targets in the European part of the USSR. Initially, it was supposed to go in very high and fast; later, as Soviet air defenses improved, the strategy shifted to low-level high-speed penetration and heavy use of stand-off weapons. It was the first French nuclear delivery system and for a couple of decades, it was the mainstay of their nuclear forces.
The Mirage IV was also used as a recon plaform, in an SR71-lite way. For instance it was used in the Balkans operations in the late 90s, undertaking high altitude and high-speed (Mach 2) recon runs.
A nuclear-strike version of the 1980s-vintage Mirage 2000, very close to the ground strike-oriented 2000B bit with the dedicated and sensitive components needed for the nuclear mission.
The newest French multi-role aircraft, replacing several other types. France was originally involved in the European Fighter Aircraft (EFA) program that would eventually create the Eurofighter Typhoon, but pulled out over fundamental disagreements, i.e. wanting a carrier version while everyone else didn't and wanting a multi-role fighter when everybody else wanted an air-superiority fighter to complement the Tornado which the French didn't have.
This aircraft has carrier and land-based versions, with only the air force having both one and two-seater sub-versions, the navy only having a single-seater (only the two-seaters carry nukes). Has seen combat in Afghanistan (the only 4.5 gen fighter to have yet done so, not counting the Super Hornet) and being marketed for export, with Brazil, Libya and the UAE seriously interested.
Air-Sol Moyennne Portée
(Medium-range air-to-surface), a stand-off cruise missile designed as a final warning shot before going ballistic.
Currently superseded by the ASMP-A (Amélioré - Improved). The ASMP-A is a stealthy ramjet-propelled missile, only general performance claims were given owing the the very sensitive nature of the nuclear deterrent.
Others (The vague, fictional etc.)