PARIS – France’s fourth nuclear submarine, Le Téméraire, was qualified on Friday to operationally deploy the M51 nuclear-capable missile after successfully launching it from the Bay of Audierne in Brittany.
Le Téméraire is the second-oldest of France's four nuclear submarines. It has been in service since December 1999 and spent 19-months being overhauled and modified in order to be able to deploy the M51. It is the last of the four to be qualified to fire the weapon.
Officials followed the three-stage missile by radar for the duration of its flight until it landed somewhere in the north Atlantic, several hundred miles away from any coast. The French Ministry of the Armed Forces says on its website that the M51's basic range is beyond 6,000 km (3,700 miles).
The M51 has already been qualified as an operational weapon for France's three other nuclear submarines: Le Triomphant (put into service in 1997), Le Vigilant (2004) and Le Terrible (2010).
Each submarine can carry 16 missiles, some of them the M51.1 version, which has been operational since 2010, and some the M51.2 version, which has been operational since 2016 and has a longer range.
The ministry did not specify which version was tested today.
This was the ninth launch of the M51 whose development began in 1996. The first launch was in November 2006 from a land base, as was the second in June 2007.
The third launch took place in November 2008 from a tube submerged in water.
The fourth launch was the first from aboard a submarine, Le Terrible, as was the fifth in July 2010.
Following that launch the M51 was declared operational on Sept. 27, 2010.
Since then only one launch has failed. That was the sixth attempt on May 5, 2013, and it was meant to qualify Le Vigilant submarine to deploy the missile.
The seventh launch took place on Sept. 30, 2015, the eighth on July 1, 2016 from Le Triomphant.
Christina Mackenzie was the France correspondent for Defense News.