France completed the first force assessment firing of its new nuclear air launched cruise missile, the upgraded medium-range air-to-ground strategic missile (ASMPA-R), on 22 May 2024. 

The ASMPA-R was launched without its military payload from a Rafale B at the end of a flight “representative of a nuclear raid”, according to a release from the French Ministry of Defense.

France’s nuclear deterrence policy is unusual on a world stage where nuclear powers including the US and China emphasise the virtues of a no-first-strike policy regarding the use of nuclear weapons. In contrast to this, the French strategy includes the option of a first strike attack against non-nuclear provocation. 

Sébastien Lecornu, Minister of the Armed Forces, expressed satisfaction at the successful firing, and extended congratulations to Ministry of Defence personnel and industrial partners that worked towards this goal. 

Operation Durandal saw a Rafale B aircraft and an A330 Phènix overcome representative air-to-air and ground-to-air threats before firing the MBDA manufactured ASMPA-R. 

The ASMPA-R project is the latest development in the lineage of air-sol moyenne portée (ASMP) missiles dedicated to France’s airborne nuclear deterrent. The ASMP, originally developed in 1986, had a range between 80 and 300 km, and used the TN 81 warhead of variable yield, between 100 and 300 kilotons of TNT. A total of 90 missiles and 80 warheads were produced by 1991, with 60 units still operational in 2001.

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The Air-Sol Moyenne Portée-Amélioré (ASMP-A), an upgraded version of the ASMP, arrived into service in 2009. This version had an extended range of up to 500km, and supported a new 300kt thermonuclear warhead. The Air and Space force received 54 of these missiles. 

ASMPA-R project is a renovated version of the AMSPA, intended to add additional range and support another advance in its warhead. The military programming law (LPM) that established investment for the ASMPA-R, under the Directorate General of Armament (DGA), has advanced the programme to remain relevant in the face an increasing threat from air defences. 

The statement from the Ministry of Defence goes on to say that the ASMPA-R development is in line with the wishes of the French President to maintain the long term operational credibility of the French forces before the arrival in 2035 of a 4th generation future nuclear missile, the ASN4G, a scramjet-powered hypersonic missile.