Europe's nuclear armament shows new trends


China Military Online
Li Jiayao
2024-05-20 19:40:11

The picture shows a F-35A fighter carrying a B61-12 tactical nuclear bomb (left).


By Liu Leina


Recently, several European media outlets reported that as the global nuclear security situation is escalating, Europe's nuclear armament is showing new trends. These reports pointed out that under the framework of the US-led NATO's extended deterrence policy and the EU's strategic autonomy in defense, Europe's nuclear armament and nuclear strategy are becoming increasingly active. In particular, the stockpile expansion and technological upgrading of tactical nuclear weapons may lower the threshold for using nuclear weapons and disrupt the original balance of nuclear forces, thus triggering a new round of arms race.


According to NATO's alliance agreement, its member states adopt a nuclear-sharing mechanism to build a "nuclear umbrella" for European countries. Among them, the UK's nuclear assets rank among the top in Europe, and its strategic weapon platform includes four Vanguard-class strategic nuclear submarines, each carrying 16 Trident submarine-launched ballistic missiles. The UK Royal Navy plans to replace its Vanguard-class strategic nuclear submarines with four Dreadnought-class ones in the future. Each Dreadnought-class submarine will be equipped with 12 upgraded Trident submarine-launched ballistic missiles, which will enhance the vessel's multi-warhead penetration, covert launching and tactical nuclear strike capabilities.


In addition to the UK, the US has deployed more than 100 tactical nuclear bombs of the B61 family at six military bases in five NATO member countries. It is worth mentioning that the US has equipped two air bases in Italy with the latest B61-12 tactical nuclear bombs. According to reports, the development of the B61-12 tactical nuclear bomb and its deployment in Europe may lower the threshold for using nuclear weapons. In terms of nuclear weapon use mechanism and authority, NATO's Nuclear Planning Group is responsible for authorizing nuclear strike missions, and the NATO Military Committee is responsible for issuing strike orders, according to which airborne nuclear strike forces of the deployed countries act to implement relevant strikes. Currently, F-16 fighters of Belgium and the Netherlands and Panavia Tornado fighters of Italy and Germany, as well asUSF-15E fighters deployed at European military bases, are designated as aircraft carrying nuclear bombs.


As the initiator of "European strategic autonomy in defense", France is also the only EU member state with nuclear deterrence capabilities. At present, it has about 300 strategic nuclear bombs and 60 tactical nuclear bombs. France's ASMP-A air-launched cruise missile features a range of more than 500 kilometers and a flight speed of up to 3,000 kilometers per hour, and is capable of carrying a nuclear warhead yield equivalent to 300,000 tons of TNT.


As planned by the French Navy, the latest model of the M51 submarine-launched ballistic missile series, the M51.3, will complete testing and verification before the end of this year, which is set to equip Le Triomphant-class strategic nuclear submarines by 2028. It is expected that by 2035, France's four new-generation strategic nuclear submarines will all be commissioned. According to media reports, whether it is the M51.3 missile or future new-type strike weapons, they will all have the ability to carry low-yield nuclear warheads similar to the US W76-1 submarine-launched ballistic missile.


With the escalation of regional bloc confrontation and the continuation of conflicts in Eastern Europe, the nuclear armament in Europe has shown a tendency to expansion.


On the one hand, Poland and the Baltic countries have asked NATO to deploy tactical nuclear weapons in their territories, and countries including Germany and Italy have called for expanding the authority to use tactical nuclear weapons deployed in Europe to support the region's defense capacity building.


On the other hand, as the F-35A fighter becomes a universal air combat platform for most European countries, these countries will have the ability to deliver tactical nuclear bombs. This will not only promote the iterative upgrading of tactical nuclear weapons technology, but also exacerbate the risk of nuclear confrontation and may spread the concept of "war economy" across Europe.


Analysts noted that the above-mentioned expansion effect may further lower the threshold for using nuclear weapons and even blur the definition of nuclear weapons, which has aroused public dissatisfaction in relevant countries. In fact, rallies protesting against the deployment of nuclear weapons have broken out in countries like Germany and the Netherlands.


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