M51 (missile)

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M-51 missile.svg
Service history
In service 27 September 2010
Production history
Manufacturer EADS Astrium Space Transportation
Unit cost 4 billion euro for the programme
Weight 52,000 kg
Length 12.0 m
Diameter 2.3 m
Warhead M51.1 = 6 to 10 TN 75 MIRV 107 kiloton (kt) (420 TJ), with penetration aids.
M51.2 (2015) = using the new Tête nucléaire océanique 150 kt / CEP 150-200 m

Engine three stage Solid-fuel rocket (Ammonium perchlorate composite propellant)
8,000-10,000 km [1][2]
Speed Mach 25[3]
Astro-inertial guidance. Galileo (satellite navigation) system is planned.
Triomphant class submarines

The M51 SLBM is a submarine-launched ballistic missile, built by Astrium, and deployed with the French Navy. Designed to replace the M45 SLBM (In French terminology the MSBS - Mer-Sol-Balistique-Stratégique “Sea-ground-Strategic ballistic”), it was first deployed in 2010.

Each missile carries six to ten independently targetable TN 75 thermonuclear warheads.

The three-stage engine of the M51 is directly derived from the solid propellant boosters of Ariane 5.

The missiles are a compromise over the M5 SLBM design, which was to have a range of 11,000 km (6,800 mi) and carry 10 new generation Tête nucléaire océanique' (“Oceanic nuclear warhead”) MIRVs.[4] Design work on the M5 started in 1992, before the programme was renamed the M51 in 1996, when development costs decreased by 20 percent.[5] The M51 entered service in 2010.[6]


After having spent €5 billion ($6.7 billion) developing the missile, the French government placed a €3 billion ($4 billion) order for the M51 in December 2004.[7]

The M51 performed its first flight test (unarmed) on 9 November 2006 from the French missile flight test centre in Biscarrosse (Landes). The target was reached twenty minutes later, in the north-west of the Atlantic Ocean.[8]

A second and third successful test were carried out on 21 June 2007[9] and 13 November 2008.[10]

On 27 January 2010, at 9h25, a missile was launched underwater by Le Terrible, from Audierne Bay.[11] The missile reached its target 2,000 kilometres off South Carolina; the 4,500 kilometre flight took less than 20 minutes.[12][13]

The 10 July 2010 test validated the Triomphant class submarine's capacity to launch the M51 in operational conditions.[14]

On 5 May 2013 an M51 flight test missile, failed after being fired by a submerged SSBN off the coast of Brittany. This was the first failed launch of the M51 after 5 successful launches since 2006.[15]


French Navy is the only operator of the missile.

Sources and references[edit]

  1. ^ The New French Nuclear Posture
  2. ^ M51 Missile Nears First Test Launch; Will Equip Final SSBN in 2010
  3. ^ http://www.techno-science.net/?onglet=glossaire&definition=12366
  4. ^ "M-5 / M-51". Retrieved 30 November 2014. 
  5. ^ Macrae, Duncan (1 January 2003). "A Darpa for Europe?". Interavia Business & Technology. Retrieved 23 May 2015 – via HighBeam Research. (subscription required (help)). 
  6. ^ "M51: a new generation of missile". Astrium. Retrieved 26 July 2013. 
  7. ^ "France announces euro3 billion nuclear missile deal". Associated Press. 23 December 2004. Retrieved 27 May 2015 – via HighBeam Research. (subscription required (help)). 
  8. ^ (French) Le Monde — Test réussi pour le M51, futur missile nucléaire à longue portée français
  9. ^ (French) Second successful launch of the M51 missile, press release of the French ministry of Defence
  10. ^ (French) Third M51 missile experimental launch, French ministry of Defence
  11. ^ Un missile M-51 a été tiré depuis un sous-marin en plongée ce matin, Jean-Dominique Merchet, Libération
  12. ^ Le missile M-51 est retombé à 2000 kilomètres des côtes américaines, Jean-Dominique Merchet, Libération
  13. ^ Tir d’essai du missile M51, Ministry of Defence
  14. ^ "Le Terrible Qualifies for Operational Launch of M51 Missile". Defence.Professionals. 13 July 2010. Retrieved 13 July 2010. 
  15. ^ "M51 Nuclear Missile Fails on a Test Launch from a Newly Upgraded Submarine". Defense Update. Defense-Update.com. Retrieved 30 November 2014. 
Comparison of different nuclear systems: left, the SNLE (Redoutable type) with the M4 missile; right, the SNLE-NG (Triomphant type) with the previous M45 missile and the current M51 missile.