January 10, 2024


France is a declared nuclear weapons state and is one of the five states authorized to possess nuclear weapons under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. Maintaining a clear policy for an independent deterrent, France withdrew from the NATO integrated command structure in 1961, and only rejoined in 2009.[i]

In 2009, the French Armament Procurement Agency confirmed that it accepted the space-based SPIRALE early warning system demonstrator. That same year, France embarked on a joint venture with Italy and the UK for the development of the Principal Anti-Air Missile System(PAAMS).

PAAMS was designed as a defense against aircraft and sea skimming anti-ship missiles, but has since proven that it can intercept ballistic missiles using its Aster 15 and Aster 30 interceptors. In November 2011, a French naval vessel successfully intercepted an Israeli-built “Black Sparrow” test missile.[ii]

In July of 2011, a French parliamentary committee published a report recommending that France become a “major contributor” to any NATO missile defense projects, stating that “keeping France’s autonomy in technologies needed for missile defense…is worth the investment.”

In April of 2012, the French Navy successfully completed the first aerial target live fire of the Coyote Supersonic Sea Skimming Target (SSST). During the test, the French Navy’s frigate, Forbin, successfully tracked and intercepted the target.[iii]

During the NATO exercise in October 2017, Formidable Shield, French ships simultaneously with ships from Italy and Spain, tracked a short-range ballistic missile target during a simulated engagement, conducting all steps of a routine engagement.[iv]

France’s Ballistic Missile Defense Capabilities

 System Operator Number Deployed Platform
SAMP/T Air and Missile Defense System France Ten batteries Ground-based; road mobile
Principle Anti-Air Missile System (PAAMS) France Two Horizon-class frigates  
S1850M Radar France Two Horizon-class frigates  
European Multifunction Phased Array Radar (EMPAR) France Two Horizon-class frigates
Preparatory System for IR Early Warning (SPIRALE) France Two Satellite-based early warning sensor  

France operates its PAAMS (Principal Anti-Air Missile System) jointly with Italy and the UK, deploying Aster 15 short to medium range missiles and Aster 30 short to long-range missiles. In addition to its PAAMS France has 10 SAMP/T systems which is a mobile, ground-based, air transportable, medium range air defense system designed to replace the Hawk air defense systems as well as an unknown number of Vertical Launch Mica systems which  are a  modular short range air defense system which fires the two Mica missiles types (IR and RF). It is intended against simultaneously multiple attacks of aircraft and missiles adding the advantage of employing and fire and forget missile.

France also has in place a space-based infrared preparatory warning system. The system uses two satellites that detect ballistic missile launches via their infrared heat signatures.

France’s Air Defense Capabilities

System Role Number Deployed Platform
Crotale Next Generation (NG) Short-Range Air Defense  Twelve Ground-Based; Road-Mobile  
VL Mica Short-Range Air Defense Unknown Ground-Based; Road-Mobile

Current Developments

In January of 2016 France announced that a contract with MBDA will involve the development of an upgraded version of the Aster 30 Block 1 called the Aster 30 Block 1 New Technology.

France, Turkey, and Italy have signed a letter of intent to strengthen cooperation on joint defense projects including air and missile defense systems. The Franco-Italian EUROSAM consortium and Turkish companies will look into a system based on the SAMP-T missile system produced by EUROSAM and determine the common needs of all three countries.[v] Turkey signed an agreement in early 2018 for an 18-month long study to determine the needs and priorities for the potential joint production of an anti-ballistic missile system. The works are planned to be finalized at the end of 2019. [vi]

On April 28, 2021, France carried out a test of an M51 submarine launched missile, landing successfully in the Atlantic Ocean. The United States observed the test with an Air Force RC-135S Cobra Ball aircraft.

Most recently, on December 12, 2023 France tested a V-MAX Hypersonic glider.

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