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A ground component of French nuclear forces in the 20th century consisted of silo-based ballistic missiles, collectively known as SSBS, or Sol-Sol-Balistique-Strategique.


In 1966, the SSBS missile blasted off for the first time from the silo at the CEL test range. The S112 series missile consisted a 10-ton operational first stage and a 10-ton mockup of the second stage. After additional test flights the S1 missile was replaced by the S2, which flew for the first time in 1971.


In 1980, the S3 modification of the missile started flying.

The S3 used the original first stage of the S2 missile made of wrapped and welded pieces of 18/8-millimeter Z2-NKDT steel.

The second stage borrowed from the M20 submarine-launched missile was made of wound fiberglass.

The S3 missile had increased range and accuracy, larger payload and featured penetration aids.

It was the first missile to sport digital flight control system and its S3-D version used electronics protected from electro-magnetic impulse, caused by nearby nuclear explosion.

The rocket was capable of carrying one-megaton thermo-nuclear warhead to the range of 3,000 kilometers.


In 1980, the first operational squadron armed with nine S3 SSBS missile was declared operational.

The total two squadrons armed with nine S3 SSBS missile each were to be deployed in the Plateau d'Albion in the Haute-Provence of the Southern France. Each of 18 missiles was placed in the hardened underground silo made of reinforced concrete and protected by armored doors. Each squadron had its own underground command and control bunker, with the ability to back up firing operations of a neighboring squadron. A special Strategic Air Force Operations Center was designed to route orders to fire missiles from Elysee Palace 24 hours a day. Primary and backup command and control lines were designed to withstand conditions of the nuclear war.

Known specifications of the S3 silo-based missile (223):

Launch mass
25.8 tons
Main diameter
1.5 meters
Missile height
13.8 meters
Missile range
3,000 kilometers (1,800 miles)
P 16/902
Propellant weight
16 tons
Propulsion system
Solid-propellant motor with four steerable nozzles
Propulsion system thrust
55 tons
P 6/Rita II
Propellant weight
6 tons
Propulsion system
Solid-propellant motor and fixed nozzles with freon thruster system
Propulsion system thrust
32 tons



The test launch of the SSBS S-3 missile from Landes Test Range. Credit: Aerospatiale.

The SSBS (S3) missile. Click to enlarge: 400 x 300 pixels / 56K Copyright: © 2005 Anatoly Zak

The SSBS (S-3) missile. Click to enlarge: 179 x 400 pixels / 32K Copyright: © 2005 Anatoly Zak

The second stage of the SSBS (S3) missile. Click to enlarge: 400 x 300 pixels / 44K Copyright: © 2005 Anatoly Zak

The SSBS missile in its protective launch silo. Credit: Aerospatiale

The scale model of the mobile loading system of the SSBS missile. Click to enlarge: 400 x 300 pixels / 28K Copyright: © 2005 Anatoly Zak

The SSBS missile is being loaded into its launch silo Credit: Aerospatiale.

The launch control bunker of the S3 missile. Credit: Musee de L'Air et de l'Espace.

A full scale museum exhibit illustrating servicing of the SSBS missile in its silo. Click to enlarge: 272 x 400 pixels / 40K Copyright: © 2005 Anatoly Zak

Ground testing of the warhead fairing. Credit: Aerospatiale