Levant island and Biscarosse

Levant island (41.0°N / 6.4°E)

The tests of missiles carried out since 1948 from the Pampelone beach, French Riviera, by CEPA (Aeronautics Applied Studies Commission), quickly required a wider and more isolated range. In October 1950, a Special Weapons Launch Station was created on the Levant island located at 10 km from the coast, which was to become the CERES (Special Weapons Researchs and Tests Center) in 1952. This Naval Air Force base was used, throughout the 1950s to test, not only the missiles intended for the Navy, but also various types of missiles for the others arms. In 1963, the GTES (Special Weapons Technical Group) in Toulon, took over the exploitation of La Renardiere polygon on the St Mandrier peninsula. La Renardiere had been used in 1945 for testing the EA 41 rocket, first French liquid propelled rocket (liquid oxygen and kerosene).

September 1, 1968, the CEM (Mediterranean Test Center) was born from the merger of CERES, GTES and La Renardiere polygon, placed under DRME (Research and Test Facilities Directorate) authority. June 1, 1977, the CEM passed under the control of DTEn (Missiles Technical Directorate).

The CERES, then the CEM, was used for testing most of the tactical missiles used in France, but also some sounding rockets (on behalf of CNES and ESRO) and ONERA and SEREB experimental vehicles.

Biscarosse (44.4°N / 1.2°W)

In July 1962, four months after the signature of the Evian agreements, which envisaged the CIEES closing for July 1967, the French government decided to create a missiles tests center in the Landes, close to Biscarosse. The CEL (Tests Center of the Landes) was to allow the testing of tactical missiles, nuclear tactical missiles (300 km range) and strategic missiles (3000 km range). In this last case, the warheads reception zone was located towards the Azores, with tracking installations on the Flores island (inaugurated in October 1966) and on a receptacle ship. The Henri Poincaré, operational as from March 1968, was replaced by The Monge in 1992.

If the tactical missiles tests started as of March 1964, the first strategic missile prototype (S112, P10 motor) was launched only on February 15, 1966. The chronology of the first trial flights for the various variants was the following one:
- single-stage P10 (901) in 1966-67: S112 vehicle of which tests had begun at CIEES
- two-stage P10/P10 (901/903) in 1967-68: S01 reduced range vehicle
- two-stage P10/P4 (904/Rita 1) as from 1968: M012 and M013 vehicles, then MSBS M1
- two-stage P16/P10 (902/903) as from 1968: S02 vehicle, then SSBS S2
- two-stage P10/P6 (904/Rita 2) as from 1973: MSBS M2, then M20
- two-stage P16/P6 (902/Rita 2) as from 1973: SSBS S3
- three-stage P20/P8/P2 (401/402/403) as from 1980: MSBS M4, then M45
One can also quote the tests of tactical nuclear missiles: Pluton (Styx motor) as from 1968, then Hades (Archeron motor) as from 1988.

In the field of the civil rockets, the CEL was used to launch the last Rubis and Cora rockets in 1967. Some Sud Aviation sounding rockets as two ONERA Tibere rockets were also fired there.

a/ Launches from Levant island (except missiles)
b/ Launches from Biscarosse (except missiles)

a/ Launches from Levant island (except missiles)

1959 3 Antares, 1 Daniel
1960 6 Antares
1961 3 Antares, 2 Daniel
1962165 Belier, 4 Berenice, 7 Centaure
196362 Agate, 1 Belier, 2 Berenice, 1 Centaure
1964112 Agate, 1 Belier, 4 Berenice, 3 Centaure, 1 LEX
196591 Berenice, 5 Centaure, 3 LEX, 1 Tacite
196611 Berenice
196761 Dauphin, 4 LEX, 1 Tacite
196822 Tacite
196922 Centaure

Note 1: The first seven Antares rockets were named OPd-56-39-22-D.
Note 2: As part of the MSBS strategic missile development program, three M112 (P10/901) were launched from a submarine tube at CERES in 1966-67, then two M011 (P10/904) in 1967-68. Four M112 were also launched from the Gymnote submarine off the CERES in 1967.
Note 3: As part of the Dassault MD 620/Jericho missile development program, sixteen vehicles (of which five single-stage) were launched from the CERES in 1965-68.

b/ Launches from Biscarosse (except missiles)

196721 Cora, 1 Rubis
196851 Belier, 2 Dauphin, 2 Dragon
196971 Belier, 6 Dragon
197022 Dragon
197111 Tibere
197211 Tibere
197311 Dragon
1990 3 Nike Orion
1993 1 Nike Orion

Note 1: As part of the SSBS strategic missile development program, four S112 were launched from a silo at CEL in 1966-67, eight S01 in 1967-68 and twelve S02 in 1968-73.
Note 2: As part of the MSBS strategic missile development program, four M012 were launched from the ground at CEL in 1968, then fifteen M013 from the Gymnote submarine off Biscarosse in 1968-71.

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Please contact Jean-Jacques Serra <> for comments, corrections or questions