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The M45 was an intercontinental-range, submarine-based, solid-fueled ballistic missile produced by Aerospatiale (now EADS SPACE Transportation). With improved range and accuracy over its predecessor, the M4, it was the core missile of the French sea-based nuclear deterrent, consisting of the Triomphant-class ballistic missile submarines. In 2004, the Ministry of Defense announced its plan to replace the missile with the M51 beginning in 2010, a project expected to be completed by the end of 2017.1

M45 at a Glance

Originated From
Possessed By
Submarine-launched Ballistic Missile (SLBM)
11.05 m
1.93 m
Launch Weight
35,000 kg
TN- 80/ TN- 81, 300 kT Nuclear
Solid Propellant
6,000 km
In Service

M45 Development

In 1997, the M45 became the fifth missile in France’s MSBS (Mer-Sol-Balistique-Stratégique) family, following the M1, M2, M20, and M4. Similar to the M4, the M45 was viewed as an effective retaliatory weapon system capable of nuclear second-strike attacks from international waters.2


The missile is 11.05 m long, 1.93 m in diameter, and weighs 35,000 kg. It has a range of 6,000 km and is powered by a three-stage solid-propellant engine. It has a payload of up to six 150 kT nuclear yield Multiple Reentry Vehicle (MRV) warheads (TN-75s) and also includes penetration aids.3 It has a reported accuracy of 350 m CEP using an inertial guidance system coupled with computer payload control.

Service History

Although France was expected to build a total of 192 M45 missiles, only 64 are believed to have been operational 4. The first 16 were fitted to Le Triomphant (S616), the first of four SNLE-NG (Sous-Marins Nucléaires Lanceurs Engins-Nouvelle Génération) new generation submarines. The fourth SNLE-NG, Le Terrible (S619), entered service in 2010 and was fitted with the next generation SLBM, the M-51.1.5

On June 1, 2004, the French submarine Vigilant (S618), test fired an M45 missile off the coast of Brittany, successfully hitting its target in French Guyana.6

It has been reported that on February 3, 2009, the Triomphant collided with the HMS Vanguard (S28), a British Royal Navy nuclear submarine.7 At the time, the Triomphant was believed to have been carrying 16 M45 missiles, four of which were armed with nuclear warheads. The HMS Vanguard was similarly armed with 16 Trident II missiles, six of which contained nuclear warheads. Repairs to the boats most likely cost over 50 million pounds, with the Triomphant incurring significant damage to its Thales active sonar dome on the starboard bow and a possible deformation of the boat’s conning tower and starboard sail plane. Despite the damage done to both ships, none of the crew sustained injuries and there were no resulting consequences regarding the missiles or nuclear materials onboard.8


    1. House of Commons Library, “The French Nuclear Deterrent, June 29 2016, http://researchbriefings.parliament.uk/ResearchBriefing/Summary/SN04079 .
    2. Federation of American Scientists, “M-4/ M-45”, August 11 2000, http://fas.org/nuke/guide/france/slbm/m-4.htm.
    3. Federation of American Scientists, “M-4/ M-45”, August 11 2000, http://fas.org/nuke/guide/france/slbm/m-4.htm.
    4. Duncan Lennox, Jane’s Strategic Weapons Systems (Offensive Systems), 2011.
    5. The Nuclear Threat Initiative, “French Submarine Capabilities”, September 28 2015, http://www.nti.org/analysis/articles/france-submarine-capabilities/.
    6. Defense Aerospace, “Firing the M45 Missile”, June 3 2004, http://www.defense-aerospace.com/article-view/release/39988/france-test_fires-m45-slbm-(june-4).html.
    7. BBC News, “Nuclear Subs Collide in Atlantic”, 16 February 2009, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/7892294.stm.
    8. Sebastien Roblin, “In 2009, Two Nuclear Submarines Collided Under the Sea (And They Were Armed with Nuclear Weapons)”, The National Interest, December 11, 2016, http://nationalinterest.org/blog/the-buzz/2009-two-nuclear-submarines-collided-under-the-sea-they-were-18690 .
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Missile Defense Project, "M45," Missile Threat, Center for Strategic and International Studies, November 30, 2016, last modified April 23, 2024, https://missilethreat.csis.org/missile/m45/.