Air Force Launches LRSO

The Air Force issued a request for proposals Friday for the Long Range Standoff weapon, a nuclear-capable cruise missile meant to succeed the current AGM-86B Air launched Cruise Missile, already 20 years past its planned retirement. The new missile would enter service in 2030. According to a service announcement, USAF is starting the technology maturation and risk reduction (TMRR) phase of the project. It’s looking to carry one or two prime contractors through a 54-month preliminary design phase, during which the contractors would demonstrate their concepts’ reliability and “manufacturability.” After that, there would be a competition to choose a single contractor to build the weapon. The Air Force has declined to provide any details about the LRSO, but it will be run out of Air Force Materiel Command’s Nuclear Weapons Center, headed by Maj. Gen. Scott Jansson, program executive officer for strategic systems, and specifically the Air-Delivered Capabilities Directorate at Eglin AFB, Fla. USAF leaders have refused to say whether they envision the LRSO as a hypersonic weapon, building on the success of the X-51 project, but the timing may coincide with such a goal. The USAF statement said the LRSO would equip the B-2, B-52, and new B-21 bombers, and is intended to be able to penetrate densely defended targets worldwide, denying any enemy “geographic sanctuary.”

USAF said that while the ALCM remains “safe, secure and effective, it is facing increasing sustainment and operational challenges against evolving threats” and a replacement is needed. The AGM-86B was joined for a time by the stealthy AGM-129 Advanced Cruise Missile, but that weapon was retired in 2012 as a cost-saving measure. The Air Force said the LRSO will provide a needed element to the air-launched aspect of the nuclear triad, providing credibility and a “tailorable deterrent effect” against adversaries and “evolving threats.” USAF didn’t specify how much it’s planning to spend on the TMRR phase. (See also: Nukes Are “A Big Bill.”)