France successfully test fired ASMPA nuke missile from Rafale fighter

Rafale with ASMPA missile
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As a member of the Western bloc, and a major military power in Europe, France always focuses on homemade weapons and work independently. The country is the only country in the Western military that has an air-based for nuclear force other than the United States. On March 23, France tested An improved ASMA-P airborne nuclear missile, which was fired from Rafale.

The French Armed Forces Ministry (Ministry of Defense) announced on social media that on March 23, a French Air Force Rafale fighter jet took off from the Cazaux (120th Air Force Base) airport in southwestern France, adjacent to the Atlantic Ocean. An “Improved Medium-Range Strategic Air-to-Surface Missile/ASMP-A” was fired, and the test was a success. This test was conducted by the Directorate General of Armament (DGA).

ASMP-A under belly of Rafale
ASMP-A under belly of Rafale

The ASMP-A medium-range nuclear air-to-ground missile may be unfamiliar to everyone, ASMP entered service in May 1986, replacing the earlier free-fall AN-22 bomb on France’s Dassault Mirage IV aircraft and the AN-52 bomb on Dassault Super Étendard. About 84 weapons are stockpiled. Carrier aircraft are the Dassault Mirage 2000N, Rafale and Super Étendard. The Mirage IVP carried the ASMP until retired in 1996.

While the improved version of the ASMP medium-range nuclear air-to-ground missile was commissioned in May 2009. It is a supersonic air-to-ground missile using a liquid-fueled ramjet engine. To a certain extent, the ASMP missile is a derivative of the ANF supersonic anti-ship missile that France failed to serve at that time, and its air intakes on both sides are exactly the same as the ANF.

ASMP-A air to ground missile
ASMP-A uses air intakes on both sides, and the overall configuration is similar to that of ANF missiles

ASMP and ASMP-A is 5.38 m long and weighs 860 kg. It was used as the standard weapon of the Mirage IV supersonic strategic bomber. The Mirage IV was launched in 1996. After no longer undertaking the air-based nuclear deterrence mission in 1988, the Mirage 2000N, which was commissioned in 1988 carried the same missile. After 2009, the improved ASMP-A was carried by the newly commissioned Rafale fighter. Mirage 2000N and Rafale, both can carry 1 ASMP or ASMP-A underbelly.

Mirage 2000N with ASMP/ASMP-A mounted
Mirage 2000N with ASMP/ASMP-A mounted

But the small size of the missile also has its downsides. The range of this missile is very “limited”. The original ASMP missile has a poor range of only 300 kilometers, with a TN81 warhead with a thermonuclear warhead (hydrogen bomb) with a yield of 10 to 300,000 tons, which is equivalent to more than 10 times that of the “Little Boy” dropped on Hiroshima, Japan in 1945. The ASMP-A, which began service on the Mirage 2000N and Rafale in 2009, increased its range to 500 kilometers and switched to a new TNA nuclear warhead, with 54 produced as of 2015.

The ASMP-A tested this time, the French Ministry of Defense has an attribute called “improved”, which may be the ASMPA-R (R stand for refurbished) missile that has been under development since 2016. It is still a “small modification” but increase the missile range and a new 300kt thermonuclear warhead added.

Many experts believed that France tests this missile amid the Ukraine-Russia war. But you must know that Paris is more than 2,400 kilometers away from Moscow. Rafale fighter jets need to carry ASMP-A in the airspace of other countries, as close to the Russian border as possible, and to avoid the S-400 and S-500 long-range surface-to-air missiles with a range of up to 400-500 kilometers”. In recent years, France has asked Ariane Aerospace Group to develop a new type of airborne nuclear air-to-ground missile, ASN4G, which will replace ASMP-A. It is a hypersonic cruise missile with a range expected to exceed 1,000 kilometers. It is not easy to build, the ASN4G missile is still under development.

ASN4G missile
CGI of ASN4G missile

France’s air based nuclear force has a history of nearly 60 years of uninterrupted operation. As early as 1964, the French Air Force established the “Strategic Air Force Command”. By 1968, 62 Mirage IV supersonic strategic bombers were distributed in 9 air bases throughout France, and 9 were maintained for a long time (1 per base). one aircraft is always “nuclear alert standby” with “5-minute take-off, these Mirage IVs have a short range, but Boeing KC-135 tankers purchased from the United States allow them to perform long-range nuclear assault missions.

Mirage IV taking off with rocket booster, mounted with 1 ASMP
Mirage IV taking off with rocket booster, mounted with 1 ASMP

For a long time, the French Air Force’s Mirage IV, which was used for air-based nuclear deterrence missions, was only used nuclear bombs such as AN11, AN22 and AN52, and the penetration capability was worrying. In the 1980s, the United States and the Soviet Union were the The strategic bomber has developed the subsonic AGM-86 “air-launched cruise missile” and the Kh-55 airborne nuclear cruise missile with a subsonic speed and a range of up to 3,000 kilometers, which has greatly improved the air-based nuclear deterrence capability of the old strategic bomber. 

In 1986, after receiving the Mirage IV with ASMP missiles, it finally had similar capabilities like US and Russia. In 1996, France deactivated 18 S3 land-based medium-range ballistics located on the Albion Plateau with a range of 3,500 kilometers, which could cover the main part of Soviet Union. With the nuclear missile silo (which only entered service in 1982), France’s relied more on air-based nuclear deterrence. Although the performance of ASMP missiles is not good, France still does not retire it and continues to use it like an “heirloom”.

Today, with the retirement of the Mirage 2000N fighter jet and no longer undertaking the mission of air-based nuclear deterrence, 2 squadrons of the 98 Rafale B (two-seat)/C (single-seat) fighter jets currently in service in the French Air Force are classified as “Strategic Air Forces” Command” to undertake the nuclear mission, which are the 1/4 “Gascogne” squadron and the 2/4 “Lafayette” squadron located at the Saint-Dizier-Robinson Air Force Base in northeastern France and the 2/4 “Lafayette” squadron at the same base is close as possible to Russia.

It is worth mentioning that the Rafale M carrier-based fighter jets of the French Naval Air Force can also carry ASMP-A medium-range nuclear air-to-ground missiles. But hopefully, That day will never come.

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