France is, like it or not, very proud of it's nuclear forces.
Partly because the US did not approve.
It caused France's fracture from NATO in the mid 60's, well that and DeGaulle's ego.
But the expense did make French conventional forces suffer, apart from the legacy of KC
-135 tankers brought to refuel France's first delivery system, the Mirage IVA bomber.
Work started in the 50's with a secret agreement with Israel, Israel had many talented people, France had the money and testing facilities, the first generation of French and Israeli weapons were derived from the early French tests, but then DeGaulle (him again!) decides that the only nation with any involvement with French nuclear weapons, will be France.
In the past, these French weapons have featured in Bastille day parades, usually the now retired shorter ranged rockets used by the French Army, maybe even a mocked up IRBM and/or SLBM, can you imagine the fuss if the RN
towed a mocked up Polaris or Trident in a military parade in the UK?
Imagine the demos at say the London Lord Mayor's parade!
The UK started on a similar independent road, but when it came to replacing the V-Bombers, balked at the cost.
So a deal, US provide, at a knock down price, Polaris A3
boosters and re-entry vehicles, the UK builds the subs and warheads.
Then the USSR
starts building a thin ABM system around Moscow, not a problem for the US, but maybe for the smaller UK force who's sole target for the strategic weapons are major population centres, since the only use for the force is to prevent the USSR
driving a wedge between Britain and America by threatening UK population centers, but not US ones.
In the early 70's, replacing the recently delivered Polaris with the newer Poseidon, to counter any Soviet ABMs, was not a political or economic option.
So, in secret, a UK only programme to upgrade the Polaris was approved, called Chevaline.
From 1974-80 still secret, after that the cost overruns leaked out, but by 1982 it was in service, along with refurbished Polaris boosters.
Chevaline was a MIRV like vehicle, replacing either one or two of the three A3
warheads with a range of decoys and other penetration devices.
Then Trident, same deal as Polaris, but much more expensive and really the D5 version eventually picked for similarity with the USN
, was way beyond UK requirements, the perils of being locked in.
Now these carry very few warheads and are the only UK nukes, since the free-fall bombs were retired.
Better maybe to have built new subs, take Chevaline a stage further building on the experience of this programme, build new boosters to the same general spec as Polaris.
It would have been even better to do a joint project with France from the start, in the early 60's, but you know who would probably have stopped that.
As for conventional forces, France is strong in many areas, rapid deployment (which they are now starting to really improve after lean years), they've a good and experienced special ops group, it was foolish to sell that carrier to Brazil before a sister to CDG
was built, CDG
has had it's problems, but once the new propellers (from a R/R owned US company!) are fitted and the
Rafale Ms are at strength it will have a powerful airgroup of Rafales, E-2C's and choppers.
A sister is now approved, a conventional take off and landing version of the UK CVF
, a 50-60000 tonner.
France is investing heavily in network-centric warfare and UAV's, they need a heavy lift chopper, new tankers (A330's probably), but their forces have a damn good reputation, for instance it's been France, UK and the Dutch nabbing those war criminals in the former Yugoslavia, their intelligence knows more about Islamic extremists than any other Western agency, and were trying to warn both the UK and US of this threat before Sept 11th.
In a decades time, a UK/French task group with an air group of RN
F-35s and MN
Rafales, will be a potent deployment force, backed up with the new amphibious warface assets now in UK and French shipyards.
If, and it's a big if, the UK decides to replace Trident, it now seems very unlikely that a big strategic system will be considered, the RAF has (and has used in Iraq last year) a UK version of a French airborne weapon, the Storm Shadow stealthy cruise missile derived from the Scalp EG
, further improvements to this are in the pipeline, along with ship and possibly sub launched versions, clearly this has the potential to be an eventual Trident replacement.
But any new UK nuclear system will be very controversial, I doubt a new French system will be however.