Unveiling the Best of the French ASMPA Nuclear Missile

The last warning cruise missile represents a modernization of France’s airborne nuclear capability, offering a credible and potent deterrent in the nation’s defence arsenal. Unveiling the Best of the French ASMPA Nuclear Missile is made by MBDA France. A “Pre-Strategic” bomb serves as the last-ditch “warning shot” before a full-scale use of strategic nuclear weapons, according to French nuclear doctrine.

The French ASMPA (Air-Sol Moyenne Portée Amélioré) nuclear missile is a strategic air-to-surface missile designed for delivery by French Air Force aircraft. It serves as a crucial component of France’s nuclear deterrence strategy. With a range exceeding 500 kilometres, the ASMPA is capable of carrying a variable-yield nuclear warhead, allowing for flexible targeting options. Its advanced design incorporates partial stealth features to evade enemy defences, enhancing its survivability during flight. The missile’s accuracy is ensured through a combination of inertial navigation systems and GPS technology.

Photo Credit: MBDA / ASMPA on Rafale
Photo Credit: MBDA / ASMPA on Rafale F3R / Unveiling the Best of the French ASMPA Nuclear Missile

The early version of the ASMP is now replaced by ASMP-A. This nuclear-capable supersonic missile was initially deployed on the Mirage 2000N K3 standard until 2018 and is currently in use on the Rafale F3R. According to MBDA, in the longer term, the future version of the ASN4G strategic missile will replace the modernized ASMPA. As of the 2023 report, developing the ASN4G air-launched hypersonic cruise missile is underway. It is expected to take over the pre-strategic nuclear deterrence role from 2035 onwards, succeeding the ASMPA.

However, in 2016, the ASMPA-R (renovated) program was initiated, featuring an extended range and a new 300 kt thermonuclear warhead. The first firing test of the ASMPA-R took place in December 2021, and the second occurred in March 2022.

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Photo Credit: MBDA
Photo Credit: MBDA / The formidable Rafale fighter is armed with the ASMPA on its centre pylon along with a combination of MICA air-to-air missiles

Through the Years: Service Milestones


The ASMP is a supersonic standoff missile powered by a liquid fuel ramjet. It entered service in May 1986, effectively replacing the earlier free-fall version of the AN-22 bomb that was previously carried by France’s Dassault Mirage IV aircraft and the AN-52 bomb utilized by Super Étendard and Mirage 2000N. At that time, approximately 84 ASMP were stockpiled. In the 1990s, carrier-based aircraft, the Super Étendard, were specifically designed to deliver the missile. However, the long-range Mirage IVP from the air forces continued to carry the ASMP until its retirement in 1996.

This formidable missile measures 17.7 ft (5.38 m) in length and weighs 860 kilograms (1,900 lb). Capable of reaching speeds around Mach 3, it boasts an impressive range spanning between 80 and 300 kilometres (50 and 190 mi). The ASMP is equipped with the TN 81 warhead, featuring a variable yield ranging from 100 to 300 kilotons of TNT. By the year 1991, reports indicated the production of 90 missiles and 80 warheads. Subsequently, by 2001, 60 of these missiles were reported as operational.

Photo Credit: Armée de l’Air / ASMP under the center fuselage of the Dassault Mirage IVP


An upgraded version, known as Air-Sol Moyenne Portée-Amélioré (ASMP-A), meaning improved ASMP, boasts an extended range of approximately 500 kilometres (310 mi) and achieves speeds of up to Mach 3. This advanced version is equipped with the new Tête Nucléaire Aéroportée (TNA) 300 kt thermonuclear warhead.

ASMP-A entered service in October 2009, initially deployed on Mirage 2000NK3 aircraft of squadron EC 3/4 at Istres, specifically designed to operate this advanced weaponry. From July 2010 to 2018, and subsequently with the Rafale F3R of squadron EC 1/91 at Saint Dizier, these aircraft were primarily designed to deliver the ASMP-A weapon system. As of the mentioned timeframe, 54 ASMP-A missiles have been stockpiled by the French Air and Space Force.

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The ASMPA air vehicle utilizes the ramjet motor for powering the missile. This particular mode of propulsion, in contrast to a traditional rocket propulsion system, facilitates a noteworthy reduction in both the necessary space within the missile and the missile’s weight concerning the required range and warhead charge. This innovative propulsion system enables the missile to traverse a substantial portion of the flight envelope at high supersonic speeds.


The ASMPA-R (renovated) project, initiated in 2016, extended the missile’s range and introduced a new 300 kt thermonuclear warhead. This advanced strategic missile is now deployed with the Strategic Air Forces (FAS) within the Air and Space Force and the Nuclear Naval Air Force (FANu) within the French Navy. Looking ahead, the future ASN4G strategic missile is anticipated to replace the renovated ASMPA-R in the longer term.

Near Future Goals: Studies for the successor to the ASMPA missile, dubbed ASN4G (Air-Sol Nucléaire de 4ème Génération), a scramjet-powered hypersonic cruise missile, have already commenced. The primary objective is to design a missile capable of achieving either high supersonic speeds ranging from Mach 4–5 or hypersonic flight up to Mach 7 or beyond. The ASN4G is envisioned to be compatible with the Rafale fighter jet, and the requirement is for a missile range significantly exceeding 1,000 kilometres (600 mi). Currently in development, the ASN4G is slated to be manufactured by ArianeGroup, according to reports.

Photo Credit: MBDA

Specifications of the ASMPA Missile System

  • Weight:  860 kg ( 1,900 lb )
  • Length:  17.7 ft ( 5.38 m )
  • Diameter:  15 in ( 380 mm )
  • Warhead:  Nuclear (TN-81) warhead, between 100-300 kilotons of TNT
  • Engine:  Liquid fuel Ramjet
  • Range:  500+ km
  • Speed:  Mach 3
  • Launch Platform:  Rafale F3R & Mirage 2000N
Photo Credit: Armée de l’Air
Photo Credit: Armée de l’Air / ASMPA under center fuselage of the Dassault Mirage 2000N k3

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In conclusion, the French ASMPA nuclear missile stands as a testament to France’s commitment to maintaining a robust and technologically advanced nuclear deterrent. Its combination of advanced features, including a formidable range, variable-yield warhead, and stealth capabilities, underscores the nation’s dedication to strategic flexibility and security.

As a key element in France’s defence strategy, the ASMPA reflects the ongoing efforts to modernize and enhance the effectiveness of its nuclear arsenal. In an ever-evolving geopolitical landscape, the ASMPA remains a symbol of France’s commitment to safeguarding its national interests and contributing to global stability through a credible and reliable deterrent capability.

Photo Credit: MBDA
Photo Credit: MBDA

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