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France tests new long-range missile

Reuters | November 9, 2006

France test-fired a new generation of intercontinental ballistic missiles for the first time on Thursday and said the launch was a success.

The M51 missile -- which is designed to carry a nuclear payload -- has a range of 6,000 km (3,726 miles), 50 percent further than that of the missile currently in service.

"French Defense Minister Michele Alliot-Marie expresses her great satisfaction after the success of the first experimental flight of the M51 strategic missile carried out, as always, without a warhead," the Defense Ministry said in a statement.

Developed by European aerospace giant EADS, the M51 will also be able to carry a heavier load than the M45 it will replace, and be armed with up to six warheads.

It was fired from the CELM test site at Biscarrosse, about 70 km from the southwestern city of Bordeaux, eyewitnesses at the launch site said.

The missile rose straight into the sky with a low roar before arching westwards over the Atlantic Ocean, leaving a trail of white smoke in its wake.

A heavy police presence was in place around the missile testing center to prevent disruption of the launch by environmentalist groups.

The submarine-launched missile is due to come into service around 2010. Its enhanced accuracy is designed to reduce "collateral damage", according to the defense ministry.

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