French nuclear weapon inventory in 2019.

070723-N-6524M-004 by cryogenic666 is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0. Mediterranean Sea (July 23, 2007)– A French Rafale M combat aircraft performs a catapult-assisted launch from the flight deck of the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Enterprise (CVN 65). The Rafale is the first French aircraft to both launch and recover on an American carrier. U.S Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Brandon Morris. Image released by LT Mark C. Jones, PAO CVN 65.

For an overview of France’s nuclear weapons consider the document French nuclear forces, 2019 by the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. Their preferred citation is: Hans M. Kristensen & Matt Korda (2019) French nuclear forces, 2019, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, 75:1, 51-55, DOI: 10.1080/00963402.2019.1556003.

The bulk of their nuclear inventory is submarine based with a small number of land-based fighters and a smaller number of carrier-based fighters.


France’s defense policy is their nuclear weapons are for “legitimate self-defense.”  They have not adopted a no-first-use policy and reserve the right for a limited strike as a “final warning” that they will defend themselves.


France has four Triomphant-class nuclear powered submarines. One of these SSBNs is always on patrol, a second is getting ready to go on patrol, another has returned from patrol, and the final one is in maintenance. Article says each sub patrol is approximately 70 days.

When on patrol the SSBN is guarded by nuclear attack submarines (plural in the article), antisubmarine frigates, and maritime patrol aircraft.

Each SSBN has 16 tubes. Currently there are two variations of missiles, MS1.1 which can carry up to six MIRVed warheads at 100 kt each. At 0.1 mt, the equivalent megaton is 0.22.

The article speculates (“are thought” is the exact wording) that some missiles have a smaller load to allow for increased flexibility for various scenarios.

It seems to me (that means my wild, uninformed conjecture) in order to allow for maximum flexibility, and to allow a single warhead for “final warning”, that one missile would be loaded with one warhead. I would guess two more missiles are loaded with two warheads. That will give a lot of flexibility at a very low end of nuclear exchange. The rest of the tubes would be loaded with three missiles carrying five warheads and 10 missiles carrying six warheads, rounding out a sub’s load at 80 warheads.

Ike Deployment by Commander, U.S. Naval Forces Europe-Africa is in the public domain (CC0 1.0). MEDITERRANEAN SEA (Dec. 6, 2016) Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN 69) (Ike), top, transits the Mediterranean Sea alongside aircraft carrier FS Charles de Gaulle (R91) Dec. 6, 2016. Ike is deployed in support of Operation Inherent Resolve, maritime security operations and theater security operation efforts in the U.S. 6th Fleet area of operations. (U.S. Navy photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Rafael Martie)

ALCMs, land-based and carrier-based

Article says the French Strategic Air Forces have two squadrons with a total of 40 nuclear-capable aircraft. These are Rafale BF3. They can carry one ALCM with yield somewhere at or below 300 kt. Article identifies that as a rumor. At 0.3 mt, the equivalent megaton is 0.45.

The Rafales have a range of 2000 km. The ASMPA ALCMs have a range of 600 km. To increase reach the French have a fleet of KC-135 tankers.

France has one aircraft carrier, the nuclear-powered Charles de Gaulle. France has 10 nuclear-capable Rafale MF3 which can each carry one ASMPA ALCM.


Recap of the French nuclear inventory:

 launcher  warhead  mt yield  total warhead
MS1.1           32             5      0.100         160
MS1.2           16             5      0.100           80
 —-  —-
total sub based           48         240
Rafale BF3/ASMPA           40             1      0.300           40
Rafale MF3/ASMPA           10             1      0.300           10
 —-  —-
total fighter           50           50
spares           10      0.100           10
 —-  —-
total           98         300


Flying in formation by Joe deSousa is in the public domain (CC0 1.0). Two Dassault Rafale (centre) and two Dassault Mirage fighters flying in formation behind a Boeing KC-135 Stratotanker aerial refueling tanker during the 2017 July 14th parade.


My summary of the yields in the French inventory:

 mt yield  equiv mt  total mt  total Equiv mt
MS1.1      0.100        0.22        16.0        34.5
MS1.2      0.100        0.22          8.0        17.2
 —-  —-
total sub based        24.0        51.7
Rafale BF3/ASMPA      0.300        0.45        12.0        17.9
Rafale mF3/ASMPA      0.300        0.45          3.0          4.5
 —-  —-
total fighter        15.0        22.4
spares      0.100        0.22          1.0          2.2
 —-  —-  —-
total             0        40.0        76.3


Alert status

Here is my guess on the alert status of French nuclear inventory along with my wild guesses when weapons would go on-alert.  The land-based fighters are located at a separate base than the weapons, so the maintainers and aircrews would need to be assembled, fighters moved to the storage location, and then weapons uploaded. The naval based fighters would have to get weapons uploaded and then wait for the carrier to get close enough to take on the fighters.

The four SSBNs are listed separately with my guess on their availability. I’ll assume either the sub just returning for patrol or getting ready for patrol would be ready in a number of days with a surge of preparation. The third sub would take more time to load and sortie.

My speculation on availability:

 launcher  total warhead  on alert  days  week(s)  months
patrol – MS1.2           16           80     80
preparing – MS1.1           16           80    80
returning – MS1.1           16           80          80
 —-  —-  —-  —-  —-  —-
total sub based           48         240     80    80          80        –
Rafale BF3/ASMPA           40           40    40
Rafale MF3/ASMPA           10           10          10
 —-  —-  —-  —-  —-  —-
total fighter           50           50         –    40          10        –
spares           10        10
 —-  —-  —-  —-  —-  —-
total           98         300     80   120          90        10
cumulative     80   200        290      300



Article has no mention of the circular error probable (CEP) for the French missiles, which is the measure of accuracy.


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