M51 (missile)

The M51 SLBM is a French submarine-launched ballistic missile, built by ArianeGroup, and deployed with the French Navy. Designed to replace the M45 SLBM (In French terminology the MSBS – Mer-Sol-Balistique-Stratégique "Sea-ground-Strategic ballistic"), it was first deployed in 2010.

M-51 missile.svg
Service history
In service27 September 2010
Production history
Unit cost4 billion euro for the programme
Mass52,000 kg
Length12.0 m
Diameter2.3 m
WarheadM51.1 = 6 to 10 TN 75 MIRV 110 kiloton (kt) (420 TJ), with penetration aids.
M51.2 (2015) = using the new Tête nucléaire océanique 100 kt / CEP 150–200 m[1][2]

Enginethree stage Solid-fuel rocket (Ammonium perchlorate composite propellant)
8,000–10,000 km [3][4]
Maximum speed Mach 25[5]
Astro-inertial guidance. Galileo (satellite navigation) system is planned.
Triomphant class submarines

Each missile carries six to ten independently targetable TN 75 thermonuclear warheads.

The three-stage engine of the M51 is directly derived from the solid propellant boosters of Ariane 5.[6] Like other blunt-nosed SLBM, such as the Trident D5, the M51 uses an extensible aerospike in the nose.

The missiles are a compromise over the M5 SLBM design, which was to have a range of 11,000 km (6,800 mi) and carry 10 new generation Tête nucléaire océanique' ("Oceanic nuclear warhead") MIRVs.[7] Design work on the M5 started in the late 1980s by Aerospatiale,[8] before the programme was renamed the M51 in 1996, when development costs decreased by 20 percent.[9] The M51 entered service in 2010.[10]


Comparison of different nuclear systems: left, the SNLE (Redoutable type) with the M4 missile; right, the SNLE-NG (Triomphant type) with the previous M45 missile and the current M51 missile.

After having spent €5 billion ($6.7 billion) developing the missile, the French government placed a €3 billion ($3.9 billion) order with EADS SPACE Transportation for the M51 in December 2004. The contract covered serial production of the M51 for 10 years, with the company to be responsible for sustained readiness support throughout the missile's life.[11][12]

The M51 performed its first flight test (unarmed) on 9 November 2006 from the French missile flight test centre in Biscarrosse (Landes). The target was reached twenty minutes later, in the north-west of the Atlantic Ocean.[13]

A second and third successful test were carried out on 21 June 2007[14] and 13 November 2008.[15]

On 27 January 2010, at 9h25, a missile was launched underwater by Le Terrible, from Audierne Bay.[16] The missile reached its target 2,000 kilometres (1,100 nmi) off South Carolina; the 4,500-kilometre (2,400 nmi) flight took less than 20 minutes.[17][18]

A 10 July 2010 test validated the Triomphant-class submarine's capacity to launch the M51 in operational conditions.[19]

On 5 May 2013, an M51 flight test missile failed after being fired by a submerged ballistic missile submarine off the coast of Brittany. This was the first failed launch of the M51 after five successful launches since 2006.[20]

In 2014 Airbus signed a deal with the French government for development work on an upgrade designated M51.3 to equip the successor to the Triomphant class.

On 30 September 2015, a M51 was successfully test-flown from a land-based missile site near Biscarrosse to a desolate target in the North Atlantic.[21]

On 10 May 2016 Airbus and Safran signed a joint 50-50 partnership to develop the M51.3 upgrade intended to enter service around 2025.[22]

On 12 June 2020, a successful test launch of an M51.3 missile (supposedly) was conducted from the Le Téméraire Triomphant-class submarine off the south-west tip of Finistère (Brittany).[23]


French Navy is the only operator of the missile.

See alsoEdit

Sources and referencesEdit

  1. ^ Paul Quilès (ancien ministre de la Défense), Bernard Norlain & Jean-Marie Collin, Arrêtez la bombe, Annexe 4, éditions du Cherche-midi, Paris, 2013 Lire en ligne
  2. ^ Site Meretmarine.com le 21 février 2015
  3. ^ The New French Nuclear Posture
  4. ^ M51 Missile Nears First Test Launch; Will Equip Final SSBN in 2010
  5. ^ http://www.techno-science.net/?onglet=glossaire&definition=12366
  6. ^ M-5 missile Global Security
  7. ^ "M-5 / M-51". Retrieved 30 November 2014.
  8. ^ Status of Major U. S., European Defense, Aerospace Programs, Aviation Week & Space Technology, March 20, 1989, 130(12):35, ISSN 0005-2175.
  9. ^ Macrae, Duncan (1 January 2003). "A Darpa for Europe?". Interavia Business & Technology. Archived from the original on 10 April 2016. Retrieved 23 May 2015 – via HighBeam Research.
  10. ^ "M51: a new generation of missile". Astrium. Archived from the original on 26 July 2013. Retrieved 26 July 2013.
  11. ^ "France announces euro3 billion nuclear missile deal". Associated Press. 23 December 2004. Archived from the original on 24 September 2015. Retrieved 27 May 2015 – via HighBeam Research.
  12. ^ "EADS SPACE Transportation To Produce French M51 Missile". Defense Daily. 11 January 2005. Archived from the original on 24 September 2015. Retrieved 22 August 2015 – via HighBeam Research.
  13. ^ (in French) Le Monde — Test réussi pour le M51, futur missile nucléaire à longue portée français
  14. ^ (in French) Second successful launch of the M51 missile, press release of the French ministry of Defence
  15. ^ (in French) Third M51 missile experimental launch, French ministry of Defence
  16. ^ Un missile M-51 a été tiré depuis un sous-marin en plongée ce matin, Jean-Dominique Merchet, Libération
  17. ^ Le missile M-51 est retombé à 2000 kilomètres des côtes américaines, Jean-Dominique Merchet, Libération
  18. ^ Tir d’essai du missile M51, Ministry of Defence
  19. ^ "Le Terrible Qualifies for Operational Launch of M51 Missile". Defence.Professionals. 13 July 2010. Archived from the original on 11 October 2010. Retrieved 13 July 2010.
  20. ^ "M51 Nuclear Missile Fails on a Test Launch from a Newly Upgraded Submarine". Defense Update. Defense-Update.com. Retrieved 30 November 2014.
  21. ^ "Tir d'essai réussi pour le missile M51". Ministère de la Défense. Ministère de la Défense. Retrieved 30 September 2015.
  22. ^ Tran, Pierre (10 May 2016). "Airbus and Safran Agree to Space Launcher Joint Venture". Defense News. Archived from the original on 15 January 2019. Retrieved 15 January 2019.
  23. ^ "France Just Test Fired A Submarine Launched Ballistic Missile In The Atlantic (Updated)". thedrive.com. 12 June 2020. Retrieved 12 June 2020.

External linksEdit