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CBRN Assessment

USAF requests bids for new nuclear-capable cruise missile

02 August 2016
The USAF has kicked off development for a nuclear-capable LRSO cruise missile to replace the legacy AGM-86 seen here carried by a B-52, the only aircraft qualified to fly with the AGM-86. Source: USAF

Key Points

  • The USAF has issued an RfP for its LRSO weapon
  • The new missile would replace the Boeing AGM-86B ALCM

The US Air Force (USAF) has issued a long-delayed request for proposals (RfP) for its Long-Range Standoff (LRSO) weapon, the planned successor to the Boeing AGM-86B Air Launched Cruise Missile (ALCM), the service announced on 29 July.

The USAF expects to award two contracts for LRSO technology maturation and risk reduction by the fourth quarter of fiscal year 2017, it said in a statement. By the end of this 54-month stage, contractors will have developed a preliminary design "with demonstrated reliability and manufacturability", the USAF said. The weapon is expected to enter service by 2030 and would be integrated onto the new Northrop Grumman B-21 bomber, as well as the legacy Northrop Grumman B-2 Spirit and Boeing B-52 Stratofortress bombers.

The legacy ALCM combines long range with precision navigation and a thermonuclear nuclear warhead. A superior replacement, the Raytheon AGM-129 Advanced Cruise Missile was fielded in the 1990s, but it was withdrawn from service under the justification of post-Cold War budget cuts in 2012. The AGM-86, therefore, remains the primary asset in the US strategic air-launched inventory. It is set to reach the end of its service life in 2020.

Four prime contractors - Boeing, Raytheon, Northrop Grumman, and Lockheed Martin - are expected to bid on the two contracts. In December 2012 the Pentagon announced plans to issue separate contracts to the four for the LRSO programme's technology development phase. A request for information released just ahead of that announcement contained no details about whether the USAF was seeking a subsonic, a supersonic, or even a hypersonic weapon. Only a small amount of information about what the service is seeking in an LRSO missile has since entered the public domain.

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