PARIS — When a French multimission frigate failed to fire its salvo of three naval cruise missiles during last weekend’s joint airstrike on Syria, the military drew on a backup plan.
The frigate’s sister ship, the Languedoc, instead launched its naval cruise missiles at the three Syrian targets. The mission was the first time France fired its naval cruise missile, a weapon which up until then only the British and U.S. had fired against a threat.
“The first salvo did not fire,” Army Col. Patrick Steiger, spokesman for the French Joint Chief of Staff, told Defense News on April 18.
The launch by a backup ship is part of France’s standard “redundancy” approach, the spokesman said.
“All the targets were hit,” he added. “The military effect was obtained.” That effectiveness led the commanders to decide there was no need for a second strike of naval cruise weapons, he explained.
It is unknown what caused the technical problem, but the misfire will be investigated, the spokesman said.
The French Navy and MBDA, the missile manufacturer, were not immediately available for comment.
A newsletter, Lettre A, reported a “technical hitch” had prevented the planned first launch.
The spokesman declined to comment on why the French Air Force did not fire a 10th cruise missile, as reported by website Le Mamouth.
The Air Force declined comment. Each of the five Rafale fighter jets on the mission carried two Scalp cruise weapons, of which nine were fired.
The importance of a naval cruise missile lies in the weapon adding a “further operational option, greater flexibility to commanders,” said François Lureau of consultancy EuroFLconsult and former chief of the procurement office. That naval weapon offers an alternative to an airborne cruise missile, which requires support from airborne warning and control systems on spy planes and in-flight refueling.
That list of strike options is due to extend as France plans to deploy the naval cruise missile on the Barracuda nuclear-powered attack submarine, the first of class due for delivery next year.
The three shipborne and nine airborne cruise weapons were the French contribution to the total 105 long-range missiles fired by Britain, France and the U.S. in the early morning of April 14, seeking to punish Syria for the alleged use chemical weapons.
The French Navy deployed three multimission frigates on the mission: the Acquitaine, the Auvergne and the Languedoc.