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The Force de Frappe: A US Viewpoint

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Research paper

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Since 1956 France has made a concerted effort to develop its own nuclear weapons and the strategic capability to deliver them. This effort has now succeeded in bringing into existence the first elements of an all-French nuclear delivery force called the force de frappe. It is the purpose of this paper to appraise the capabilities of this force and its implications for the United States. Examination of the early history of the French nuclear weapon development program reveals that its original military requirement was changed to a political one with the return to power in 1958 of General de Gaulle. This increased emphasis resulted in the detonation of the first French nuclear device in February 1960. By 1962 this device had been converted into a 60-kiloton, plutonium weapon suitable for delivery by the Mirage-IV aircraft being developed specifically for that purpose. While there is ample evidence that the French unofficially sought U.S. assistance in their weapon development, such assistance was not offered due to the general intransigence of General de Gaulle toward the United States. The force being developed by the French to deliver its nuclear weapons is to consist of three generations. The first generation which is now entering operation consists of about 50 Mirage-IVA aircraft. The second will consist of 50-100 surface-to-surface ballistic missiles and will become operational starting in 1968. The third generation will consist of three nuclear submarines armed with Polaris-type ballistic missiles to be operational by 1973. Analysis of the effectiveness of the force indicates that the first generation is incapable of implementing the French strategy of proportional deterrence against the Soviet Union due to its small numbers, insufficient range, and inability to penetrate defenses. The second and third generations will be more effective but will lack sufficient numbers to deter the Soviet Union without outside assistance.

Subject Categories:

  • Government and Political Science
  • Military Operations, Strategy and Tactics
  • Nuclear Weapons

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