The French Air Force has revealed that it has used a Rafale fighter to launch a nuclear-capable ASMPA cruise missile in a test mission, reports The Week. The whole mission lasted for over 11 hours and included the in-flight refuelling of the Rafale.
"These real strikes are scheduled in the life of the weapon's system," French Air Force spokesman Colonel Cyrille Duvivier stated.
"They are carried out at fairly regular intervals, but remain rare because the real missile, without its warhead, is fired," he explained further.
No details regarding the site of the test have been revealed but interestingly, it comes just days after the US and Russia both withdrew from the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty which restricted both countries from positioning nuclear missiles with a range of attack from 500 km and 5,500 km.
“We Europeans cannot remain, spectators of our own security,” French Defence Minister Florence Parly had remarked at a meet in Portugal.
France has a total nuclear arsenal of some 300 warheads and spends around $4 billion per year for their maintenance. It has the capability to launch the weapons through submarine-borne ballistic missiles as well through its military aircraft.
The ASMPA missile has a range greater than 300 km and is pivotal as it provides aircraft such as the Rafale with ‘standoff’ capability while carrying out a nuclear strike, as opposed to conventional weapons which are required to be fired at a much closer distance from the target.
The Rafale is currently the only remaining fighter in the French Air Force that is assigned to a nuclear strike role; previously a variant of the Mirage 2000 was also earmarked for the task but has since been retired.
There has also been talk of such a nuclear strike role being assigned to the 36 Rafale fighters that the Indian government is in the process of acquiring.
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