France tests ASMPA-R nuclear cruise missile

France tests ASMPA-R nuclear cruise missile
Test launch of the upgraded ASMP-A / ASMPA-R missile in 2020. Photo of the French Ministry of Defense

Using existing capabilities, France is trying to develop its nuclear forces. In the recent past, the French industry has carried out another modernization of the ASMP air-launched cruise missile, and it is now being tested. The other day, another test launch took place, during which the technical characteristics were not only confirmed, but also issues of combat use were worked out.

Practical application

On May 13, a large and lengthy military exercise, Durandal, started in France. Over the course of a month, units of a number of military branches will demonstrate their skills, practice performing various tasks and use existing weapons. In addition, as it turned out, as part of these maneuvers they decided to test a completely new weapon special category.

On May 22, the French Ministry of the Armed Forces announced that during the Durandal exercise, a training launch of the modernized ASMPA-R air-launched cruise missile was carried out. This launch is called the first evaluation launch within the test program. The missile was used for the first time in full-scale exercises simulating operation by troops and full-fledged combat use.

The carrier of the ASMPA-R missile was the Dassault Rafale fighter-bomber of one of the combat units. The exercise plan included demonstrating the combat radius of a system consisting of an aircraft and a missile, which required the assistance of an A330 Phénix tanker. At the same time, the flight range to the launch line is not reported.

Model of the ASMP-A product. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

The carrier aircraft dropped a missile over one of the test sites in France. The product followed the specified route and hit the intended target at another training ground. For obvious reasons, the missile carried an inert warhead instead of a standard nuclear one. The ASMPA-R ALCM flight was tracked by radar systems and went according to plan.

The Ministry of the Armed Forces gave a positive assessment to the test. The upgraded missile and related systems confirmed compliance with customer requirements. This allows us to continue testing and preparing ALCMs for full adoption and inclusion in nuclear forces.

Consistent modernization

The first version of the Air-Sol Moyenne Portée (ASMP) medium-range air-to-ground missile was developed at the turn of the seventies and eighties by Aérospatiale. The objective of the project was to create an ALCM for various types of combat aircraft, capable of delivering a nuclear warhead over a range of hundreds of kilometers. Such weapons were considered “pre-strategic” - they were planned to be used as a last measure before a full-fledged nuclear missile strike using ballistic missiles from ground-based systems and submarines.

The ASMP missile was adopted by the French Air Force and Navy in May 1986. The carriers of this weapon were the Mirage IV strategic bomber, the Mirage 2000 fighter and the Super Étendard carrier-based attack aircraft. Later they were joined by the promising Rafale fighter. To use nuclear missiles, the aircraft had a modified weapon control system.

Rafale fighter-bomber with mixed ammunition. An ASMP-A missile is suspended under the fuselage. Photo by MBDA Systems

This fleet of carriers remained until the mid-nineties, when the Air Force began to withdraw Mirage IV bombers from service. The Mirage 2000 and Super Étendard aircraft remained in service until the mid-XNUMXs. To date, of all the ASMP carriers, only the Rafale remains in service.

Due to their special role, ASMP missiles were not intended for mass production and use. Their serial production continued until 1991, and by this time only 90 missiles and 80 special warheads had been produced. Some of the missiles were later used for training launches and personnel training.

In 1997, development began on an improved version of the ASMP-A (Amélioré) missile. This project included a number of design modifications to increase the flight range. In addition, an improved warhead was introduced. For various reasons, work on ASMP-A was seriously delayed. The missile was put into service only in 2009, and was soon deployed to the troops.

Serial production of ASMP-A was established by MBDA, to which this project was transferred after all the transformations. Over the course of several years, only 54 new missiles were manufactured for the Air Force and Navy. They entered service with two squadrons equipped with Mirage 2000 and Rafale aircraft.

In 2016, the ASMPA-R project was launched, aimed at generally updating the design and extending the service life of missiles. At the same time, a significant change in tactical and technical characteristics was not planned. According to initial plans, the first updated ALCMs were to enter service with the troops in 2023. It was assumed that they would be able to remain in service until 2030-35.

A Rafale-M carrier-based fighter with an ASMP-A missile on the deck of the aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle. Photo by the French Ministry of Defense

The first test launch of the updated ASMPA-R took place at the end of 2020. Several more tests were carried out in 2021 and 2022. Each time, the successful completion of the assigned tasks was reported, but overall the project was behind schedule. There was no time to put the missile into service in 2023. To date, we have only managed to reach military tests and demonstrate the use of the product by a combat unit.

However, the Ministry of the Armed Forces remains optimistic. It expects that current activities will be completed in the near future, and the ASMPA-R product will enter service, replacing previous modifications. It is intended to be in operation for the next decade or more, until the next generation of “pre-strategic” ALCMs becomes available. The design of such a product has only recently begun, and replacing existing ASMP family missiles is still a long way off.

Technical features

The ASMPA-R product is a supersonic cruise missile designed for carrier aircraft of various classes and capable of delivering a nuclear warhead to remote targets. It is considered as a means of strategic deterrence and, in this capacity, complements submarine-launched ballistic missiles.

The ASMPA-R has a stretched fuselage with an ogival nose fairing. In the central part, the fuselage expands due to air intakes and channels for supplying air to the engine. The tail has a set of small-span wings and rudders. The total length of the rocket is 5,4 m with a diameter of the cylindrical part of the body of 380 mm. Starting weight – 860 kg.

Rafale-M with ASMP-A takes off from an aircraft carrier. Photo by Dassault Aviation

All ASMP series missiles are equipped with a ramjet engine. Atmospheric air is supplied to the engine using two bucket-type intake devices. The engine uses liquid fuel and creates high thrust, sufficient to achieve speeds of up to 3 M. The flight range in the ASMP-A and ASMPA-R modifications has been increased to 500 km. The ramjet is supplemented with a starting solid propellant engine. After the rocket is released, it provides initial acceleration to the ramjet speeds and is then reset.

The rocket is equipped with an autopilot using inertial and satellite navigation. The flight is carried out according to a predetermined program to a target with specified coordinates. There is no communication with the carrier after launch, and in-flight retargeting is impossible.

For the ASMP rocket in the mid-eighties, a compact and lightweight thermonuclear warhead of the TN 81 type was developed. Such a product had a variable explosion power in the range of 100-300 kt. The ASMP-A project introduced a new TNA (Tête Nucléaire Aéroportée) warhead with a constant power of 300 kt. It was reported that the latest modernization of ASMPA-R also provides for the replacement of the warhead, but its parameters will remain at the level of current products.

development Plans

France's nuclear forces are limited in size and do not have a wide range of special warheads and their carriers. In addition, one of the key components of this system, the ASMP-A missile, is not new. The basic design was created 40 years ago, and the last modernization was carried out in the two thousand years. In this regard, the emergence and implementation of the ASMPA-R project is a logical and expected solution.

The new modification ASMP-A has been created since 2016 and reached flight testing a few years ago. However, only now has such a missile been tested in exercise conditions close to real combat use. In general, we are talking about some lag behind the schedule, but the French Ministry of the Armed Forces views the situation with optimism and expects the ASMPA-R to be put into service soon.
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  1. -1
    27 May 2024 08: 20
    However, a serious rocket. Of interest is the flight profile to the target, altitude, angle of approach to the target, flight speed on the primary air force, if so provided.
    And the nuclear warhead is quite powerful, about the same as modern ICBMs with MIRVs.
    It is necessary to take a very close look at France's nuclear potential. Their SLBMs and SSNs are the latest in NATO. But if SLBMs can be counted on their carriers, then these supersonic missile launchers with nuclear warheads, which they intend to permanently deploy in Eastern European countries, are seriously changing the balance of power. What if these SZKRs are adapted not only to Rafales, but also to other aircraft of NATO countries? Don't they still have to carry free-falling bombs?
    I think that to stop such a threat, it is necessary to have a fairly large-scale deployment of the Russian Armed Forces, RSD in the European theater of operations, capable of hitting with one blow not only headquarters, arsenals, naval bases and Air Force bases, but also all civilian airfields capable of receiving combat aircraft as reserve airfields. The deployment of our Nuclear Deterrence Forces for the European Theater of Constant Readiness must not only be or be sufficient, but must be Redundant - with the proper level of redundancy of forces and means, in order to ensure the destruction of ANY threat to our country from the territory of NATO countries. And special supervision and control over the nuclear forces and capabilities of France. The number of nuclear warheads they have may be deliberately underestimated, since it is not bound by any framework agreements. But at the same time, France has all the technologies and capacities for mass production of nuclear warheads.
    1. +1
      27 May 2024 08: 54
      If there is supersonic cruising, then it is unlikely that there is a very complex flight profile.
      But, of course, difficult to knock down. The question is where will carriers with such a missile flight range be based...
      1. -1
        27 May 2024 10: 55
        They have a ramjet engine, in fact it is some kind of analogue of our “Mosquito” and “Onyx”. The range is stated to be 500 km. (although I came across a range of 400 km.) is only possible during high-altitude flight at 10 - 000 m. With decreasing altitude, the range decreases. That’s why I would like to know details about the flight profile to the target. Most likely the profile is combined, but targets at such a height (13 - 000 m) and such speed are visible to ground-based radars very well at maximum range. But if these missile systems have access to primary weapons at more or less a decent range, this will be a very difficult target for ground-based air defense systems.
        Therefore, there is a need for AWACS aircraft and duty fighters in the sky.
        1. +1
          27 May 2024 14: 40
          If you remember the performance characteristics of the first modification of ASMP (1985), then it’s like this: range - 240 km with profile - High altitude (10-000 meters), speed - M12 (000 km/h), range - 3 km with profile - Low height (3180-80 meters), speed - M60 (100 km/h).
          Now, as for the TNA RAM, this device weighs 90 kg. I have great doubts that the French managed to squeeze 300 kt out of it. Back in 1985, they also tried to convince the whole world that the TN-81, with the same mass, has a power of 300 kt. This is too fantastic a figure for the French level of scientific, technical and technological development of the country. Only Russia has come quite close to this level of specific power of nuclear warheads; the rest, including the United States, have lagged quite far behind.
          1. 0
            27 May 2024 16: 40
            It turns out that in the first versions this missile corresponded approximately to our X-31 of the latest modifications (range, speed, warhead mass). But for the latest modification the range is already stated at 400 km. (or as in the article - 500 km.) . As for the power of the warhead, doubts also immediately arose for such a compact missile, I think that they lied for greater importance.
  2. +1
    27 May 2024 09: 02
    The ASMP-A project introduced a new TNA (Tête Nucléaire Aéroportée) warhead with a constant power of 300 kt.

    For tactical nuclear weapons, the warhead has a high power.
  3. +2
    27 May 2024 09: 41
    Well, what can I say.
    Our exercises involving the nuclear triad have fueled the arms race around the world.
    Apparently, this was what all these commentators who wanted to rattle nuclear weapons were expecting? Like, let the West see!
    Well, I saw the West
    What's next?
  4. 0
    29 May 2024 13: 57
    For Mr. Ryabov K.! France is testing not a nuclear missile, but an air-launched missile “capable” of carrying a nuclear warhead. As they say in Odessa, these are two big differences.... But in other respects it is very similar to a technically competent, non-machine translation... We will take into account the increased capabilities of the French military-industrial complex in our daily activities, in the theater of operations....