France Flexes its Nuclear Muscle in Massive New Strategic Bomber Drills

Photo of French Aircraft by Alex Layzell via ( Flickr

As a reminder to the enemies of the West (i.e; Russia and China) that the U.S. and UK aren’t the only Western strategic nuclear powers, France just conducted a massive drill on April 7 of its own strategic nuclear forces. The exercise, called Operation Poker, mobilized as many as 50 military aircraft and included a mock nuclear air raid carried out over French territory.

A French government site, the Air and Space Army, Tweeted that about thirty Rafale and Mirage 2000-5 led the raid with one E3F AWACS plane and three A330 Phénix, refueling aircraft along with C- 135 and Rafale C and Mirage 2000 planes played enemies.

The WC-135 Constant Phoenix is a specialized atmospheric sampling aircraft.


France maintains a relatively small, by U.S. and Russian standards, but robust nuclear weapons force they call the Force de Dissuasion (Deterrence Force). Prior to 1961 it was called the Force de Frappe (Strike Force). Despite being reduced in recent years, and losing its land based missile component, it is still the third largest nuclear-weapons force in the world, surpassing China’s current nuclear forces, as well as Britain’s.

The French Air Force has at least 50 Rafael and Mirage 2000 jet fighter bombers that are nuclear-capable, and the Navy has 15 Rafaels that can carry the ASMP medium-range air-to-ground missiles with nuclear warheads. This provides France with 75 air deliverable nuclear warheads.

According to Defense-Blog:

Poker drills are conducted several times per year without much publicity. Exercises include air-to-air refueling of fighters, low altitude penetration by fighter bombers and the simulated shooting down of a missile (once the nuclear charge has been deactivated).

Under the Poker exercise, French Air and Space Force scrambled 50 military aircraft, including modern Rafale fighter jets, WC-135 special-purpose aircraft, A330 MRTT aerial refueling tanker aircraft, AWACS E-3s, and Mirage 2000 fighters, come together to form a fleet in northern Brittany.

France 3 reports that the exercise involved some planes role-playing as enemies while other ‘French’ planes attack a simulated enemy territory in the Massif Central.

During this raid, anti-aircraft defense systems also traced and tracked the sky to hunt down the attackers.

Beyond the air launched nukes, the French Navy also has a nuclear strategic branch, the Force Océanique Stratégique (Strategic Ocean Force), which has four nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines (SSBNs). 

These nuke missile submarines include: One Le Terrible (S 619) SSBN commissioned in 2010, armed with 16 of the more modern M51 missile, successfully tested in 2010. And three Triomphantclass SSBNs: Le Triomphant (S 616), Le Téméraire (S 617), Le Vigilant (S 618), also armed with 16 M51 missiles.

In March 2008, French President Nicolas Sarkozy confirmed that France would reduce its French Air Force-carried nuclear arsenal by 30%, leaving the total Force de Dissuasion with 290 nuclear warheads. ADN



Paul Crespo is the Managing Editor of American Defense News. A defense and national security expert, he served as a Marine Corps officer and as a military attaché with the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) at US embassies worldwide. Paul holds degrees from Georgetown, London, and Cambridge Universities. He is also CEO of SPECTRE Global Risk, a security advisory firm, and President of the Center for American Defense Studies, a national security think tank. - - PAULCRESPO.COM

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1 year ago

France has been a friend for the majority of our nation’s history… But, it would not take much for them to become our foe. They could easily enough be transformed into an Arab led group…. Does that make you feel good?
Remember, all of this, ALL of this, will come to an end…as will each one of us. We all need to be ready for our end… Make sure you are ready to meet The Creator.

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