The Pentagon has awarded Raytheon Technologies a $2 billion contract for developing new nuclear cruise missiles for the US Air Force. The company will design and develop the Long-Range Standoff (LRSO) weapon: a nuclear missile capable of being launched from the air.
The arrival of the LRSO will pave way for the retirement of the 1980s era AGM86 cruise missiles. In service since 1982, AGM86 is an Air-Launched Cruise Missile (ALCM) that was launched with a 10-year design life. Raytheon's contract is part of the larger Pentagon plan of upgrading its entire nuclear arsenal.
The controversial plan is expected to cost the US taxpayer over $1.2 trillion over the next 30 years but might be necessary after North Korea, last year, unveiled the biggest ever intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM). The US plan includes ICBMs, submarine-launched ballistic missiles, and strategic bombers.
Raytheon-developed cruise missiles are being planned for the B-52, B-2 Spirit, and the B-21 Long Range Strike Bomber that will be inducted in the future. Unlike traditional weapon systems that are upgraded during service, the LRSO needs to have all its certifications in place right at the beginning, since it will be capable of carrying a nuclear warhead. The range of the LRSO is expected to be 1500 miles (2400 kilometers).
Work on the LRSO began in 2017 when Lockheed Martin and Raytheon were awarded contracts for its preliminary design and development. Raytheon was picked to develop the missile further last year, much ahead of the scheduled review planned in 2022.
Raytheon will have to demonstrate the capabilities of the missile in 2027 after which a decision about its production will be taken. The US Air Force plans to purchase up to 1000 LRSO after a successful demonstration, in its bid to upgrade its arsenal.
Earlier this year, the US Navy successfully tested the SM-6, a three-in-one missile capable of anti-air, anti-surface warfare, and ballistic missile defense. The SM-6 is also a product of Raytheon Technologies.