PARIS, Jan. 29 (UPI) -- The French navy has successfully carried out an unarmed submarine launch of an M51 ballistic missile, the Defense Ministry in Paris says.
The test, conducted from the Bay of Audierne in northwest France, was accomplished "as scheduled," marking the fourth such successful test of M51 missiles conducted carried out between 2006 and 2008.
The test, said a statement from the French Ministry of Defense, was launched from the submarine Le Terrible. It was tracked during the entire flight by the missile test center of the French Armament Procurement Agency and also surveyed by the vessel Monge.
"Defense Minister Herve Mortin expressed his great satisfaction with the success which is so far the four experimental flight of the M51 strategic missile without a nuclear warhead," the statement said.
The M51 is scheduled to be used on the nuclear submarines for the launch of next generation devices of the country's naval forces in 2010. At least six additional flight tests have been planned for the missile before it goes into service later this year.
"This success once more demonstrates the excellence of the French industry's high technology in this particular field of technology," the Defense Ministry statement said.
The M51 strategic missile weighs about 54 tons and has a range of about 5,000 miles. It has the ability to carry six to 10 independent thermo-nuclear warheads and enjoys greater accuracy than the current M45 ballistic missile, which has half of the flight range of the M51.
"This test marks an important step in the modernization and adaptation of France's deterrence within the strict respect of its international engagements," the Defense Ministry statement said.
EADS Astrium is the prime contractor of the M51. It is collaborating with G2P, a joint venture between Snecma Propulsion Solide and SNPE Materiaux Energetiques, and the CEA French Atomic Energy Commission.
Once fully operational, the M51 will enter service on Le Terrible, the last of four new-generation ballistic missile submarines of the Le Triomphant class in the French Navy's strategic oceanic force, French military experts said.
When in service, each submarine is expected to carry up to 16 M51 missiles.
The successful test launch marks a sigh of relief for the embattled EADS which has been seen its most important project -- the A400M military plan -- engulfed in prolonged delays and debate over funding.
The company has been seeking an additional $8.9 billion to complete the project, on top of $28 billion in fixed costs for delivery of 180 planes to a string of European nations.