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Military Capabilities

Mattis supports nuclear ‘triad’ but new cruise missile still under review

14 September 2017
Mattis remains non-committal on replacing the legacy AGM-86 cruise missile, seen here carried by a B-52, with a new LRSO. Source: USAF

Key Points

  • A nuclear triad of missiles, bombers, and submarines sends ‘the most compelling message’, Mattis believes
  • A new air-launched cruise missile is still being reviewed

Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis signalled his support for continuing to field a ‘triad’ of nuclear delivery systems amid a Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) that is studying options for addressing the United States’ costly and ageing nuclear force.

The Pentagon in April began its NPR and is to send a final report to the White House by the end of the year.

“I have questioned the triad and I cannot solve the deterrent problem reducing [the US nuclear force] from a triad,” Mattis said during a 13 September visit to Minot Air Force Base. “If I want to send the most compelling message, I have been persuaded that the triad in its framework is the right way to go.”

However, Mattis remained non-committal towards a new nuclear-capable Long Range Standoff (LRSO) cruise missile.

The US Air Force (USAF) in August awarded Lockheed Martin and Raytheon each USD900 million contracts for LRSO’s maturation and risk reduction acquisition phase. An LRSO would notionally replace Boeing’s AGM-86B nuclear-capable air-launched cruise missile.

Contracts for LRSO development are intended “to maintain that weapon as an option”, Mattis said, “it is not a decision yet [to field it], that will come out of a Nuclear Posture Review”.

Mattis told Congress during his confirmation process in January that the United States needs to modernise its nuclear triad, but he did not immediately endorse the LRSO. Instead, Mattis wrote that he would "examine the utility and advisability of this [LRSO] programme within existing nuclear doctrine and report back" to the Senate.

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