A French M51 submarine launched nuclear ballistic missile malfunctioned during a test launch Sunday, and had to be destroyed while in flight, the Ministry of Defense said. It was the 6th flight test of the latest strategic ballistic missile. For the test flight the missile’s nuclear warhead was removed. An investigation was immediately launched into the cause of the aborted test of the M51 missile over Normandy. Defense-Update reports.
Military officials told reporters the problem occurred in the first phase of the missile’s ascent and triggered a self-destruct order. The exact nature of the malfunction was not immediately known, Radio France Internationale said. According to the French MOD, the missile was launched form a test site at the baie d’Audierne (Finistère) and crashed into an area that had been cleared of civilian air and maritime traffic. The missile would have landed in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean if its flight had been successful.
France operates four SSBNs in its strategic Oceanic force. Each of these submarines is carrying 16 M51 missiles. The M51 is a strategic ballistic missile is carried by four French Navy nuclear powered missile submarines. The missile was launched from the French Navy nuclear powered ballistic missile submarine (SSBN) Le Vigilant S618; the ‘Triumphant class submarine has a length of 138 meter long and a submerged displacement of 14,200 tonnes. It is powered by a nuclear driven turbo-reactor developing 30mW of power. Each submarine is manned by two crews of 100 personnel. In addition to the ballistic, nuclear armed missiles, the submarine is also equipped with four 533 mm torpedo tubes firing Exocet anti-ship missiles or F17 torpedoes.
The French deterrent force
The M51 missiles were loaded on the submarine during the two-year upgrade that was completed in October 2012. Through the overhaul process the submarine’s combat information system was also upgraded, and a new navigation system added. Following the refit the submarine entered a testing phase which also included test firing of the missiles.The M51 is replacing the M45 currently in service. At a weight of 54 tonnes, the new missile is 40% heavier than its predecessor. One meter longer than the M45, the M51 has a larger diameter which corresponds to more powerful and energetic propulsion. The three stages carry the missile over a distance of 6,000 km. The first variant, M51.1 was fitted to the first SSBM Le Terrible in 2010. This model uses the same warhead as the previous SRBM – the M45. The M51.2 has a larger warhead, extended range and highly accurate stellar tracking navigation, augmenting the standard inertial navigation system. It is also designed with better penetration capability.
Working on the behalf of the French defence procurement agency DGA (French Ministry of Defence procurement agency), since the 1960’s, the company has produced the submarine-launched MSBS family (M1, M2, M20, M4) of the French deterrent force. The latest version, the M-45, is currently deployed on board France’s new generation submarines. The MSBS-M51, an ultra-modern missile with considerably enhanced performance, has been under development since 1992.