The Cold War is long over and the United States and Russia are both shrinking the size of their nuclear arsenals, but American defense contractors still face new opportunities in the nuclear weapons arena.
As part of its efforts to keep its nuclear inventory modern and reliable, the U.S. military is gearing up to develop a nuclear-capable Long Range Standoff (LRSO) cruise missile to replace its aging AGM-86 Air Launched Cruise Missile (ALCM), which has been operational since 1986. The Boeing-built ALCM is carried by the B-52 bomber.
The Air Force recently announced that it plans to release a request for proposals for the LRSO program’s technology phase in May 2014. To prepare for the RFP, the government scheduled an Oct. 31 industry day to review its draft acquisition strategy and receive feedback from industry. Potential competitors include Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman and Raytheon.
According to the Air Force’s fiscal year 2014 budget request, LRSO “will be capable of penetrating and surviving advanced integrated air defense systems … from significant standoff range to prosecute strategic targets in support of the Air Force’s global attack capability and strategic deterrence core function.”
The budget request, which is pending in Congress, proposes to spend $5 million on the LRSO program in FY 2014. That figure would jump to $41 million in FY 2015, $204 million in FY 2016, $349 million in FY 2017 and $440 million in FY 2018.
LRSO is one of several planned efforts to update aging U.S. nuclear forces. The Air Force intends to modernize its land-based Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missiles, acquire a new long-range bomber aircraft and upgrade its existing B-2 and B-52 bombers. The Navy aims to replace its fleet of Ohio-class ballistic missile submarines. A life extension program for the B61 nuclear gravity bomb is also in the works and includes replacing a parachute system with a newly designed tail assembly to increase the weapon’s accuracy.