Nukes, Aircraft Carriers and More: France's 5 Most Lethal Weapons of War

While France might not be a superpower, her armed forces should not be underestimated.

The modern French armed forces are in many ways similar in structure to the U.S. military. More so than most European countries, the French military is structured to confront a vast continuum of conflict, ranging from guerrilla to nuclear warfare. Like the United States, France structures its forces for both expeditionary warfare and the homeland defense mission.

The French military maintains a high-end force of tanks, armored vehicles and modern jet fighters for high intensity conflict and a low-end of light infantry, special forces and light armored vehicles for the lower end of the spectrum. Heavy armored forces help France fulfill its European defense mission, while France’s commitments to its present and former colonies in Africa, South America, French Polynesia and the Middle East demand light forces capable of rapid overseas deployment.

France also has nuclear weapons, a legacy of French President Charles DeGaulle’s desire for a country that was militarily self-reliant. France was the fourth country to attain  nuclear weapons capability, and during the Cold War maintained its own triad of land, air, and sea-based nukes.

Here is a sampling of France’s five best weapons systems ranging from fourth-generation fighters to ballistic missile submarines capable of delivering armageddon across an entire continent.

Dassault Rafale (“Squall”):

The Dassault Rafale was conceived in the early 1980s as a multi-role fighter to replace nearly all legacy French fighter and attack aircraft. Rafale is almost completely indigenous with the fuselage, avionics, engines and weapons all made in France.

Although small in stature, the Rafale packs a big punch with twelve wing-mounted hardpoints capable of mounting air-to-air missiles, air-to-ground missiles, sensors and drop tanks. Though nearly thirty years old, upgrades such as the RBE2 AA active electronic scanning array (AESA) radar, Damocles targeting pod, Meteor air-to-air missiles and SCALP cruise missiles have kept the design competitive with other fourth-plus generation fighters. Recent versions are capable of carrying the ASMP-A medium-range nuclear cruise missile.

Rafales have flown in combat in Afghanistan, Libya, Mali and Iraq. France operates 140 Rafales including the Rafale M, a navalized version of the fighter featuring strengthened landing gear and a tail hook for aircraft carrier flight operations.

LeClerc Main Battle Tank:

France’s main battle tank, the LeClerc, was designed toward the end of the Cold War to replace the AMX30 series of tanks. At fifty-seven tons, the LeClerc is one of the smallest tanks currently in production. A light weight and a 1,500hp engine — the same rating as the heavier M1A2 Abrams — combines to give the latest version of the LeClerc a speedy twenty-six to one horsepower to weight ratio.

Like the Abrams, the LeClerc  has a 120mm main gun and carries forty rounds of ammunition. Unlike the Abrams, LeClerc uses an indigenous GIAT design fed by an autoloader. This reduces the crew by one, resulting in a smaller tank. The autoloader is reportedly capable of up to twelve rounds a minute. The commander and gunner have separate long distance and thermal sights for observation and aiming.

The French Army operates 426 LeClerc tanks, with the UAE operating just under that number. UAE LeClercs have recently been spotted operating in Yemen against Houthi insurgents.

Tiger Attack Helicopter:

Europe’s answer to the AH-64 Apache, the Eurocopter Tiger has evolved from a dedicated tank-killer into a multi-role attack helicopter. France operates two versions of the Tiger, the HAD multi-role combat helicopter and HAP combat support helicopter.