The U.S. Air Force said that it conducted a Critical Design Review (CDR) for the Raytheon Technologies [RTX] AGM-181 Long Range Stand-Off (LRSO) nuclear-tipped cruise missile on Feb. 27-March 2 at Eglin AFB, Fla.
As of June 2021, the Air Force planned to buy 1,087 LRSOs–67 for development and 1,020 in procurement–at a unit cost of $13.3 million, per the Government Accountability Office Weapon Systems Annual Assessment last June.
Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory is to provide the W80-4 warhead for LRSO. Air Force bombers, including the future Northrop Grumman [NOC] B-21 Raider, are to carry LRSO, which is to replace the Boeing [BA] AGM-86B Air-Launched Cruise Missile, which has a W80-1 warhead that Air Force officials said can come in a lower-yield configuration.
The Air Force fiscal 2024 budget requests more than $978 million for LRSO, including $911 million in research and development funding and about $67 million in procurement.
LRSO “being developed by Raytheon in Tucson, Arizona is going to play a critical role in the deterrence of our top four adversaries, and the ability to forward deploy this missile on U.S. bombers sends a powerful message to our adversaries, but also our allies,” Sen. Mark Kelly (D-Ariz.) said during a March 9 hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee. Kelly suggested that the U.S. needed to reconfigure its nuclear posture against China, Russia, North Korea, and Iran, especially given last year’s Russian assault on Ukraine, Russia’s rejection of the New Start Treaty, and Russia’s refusal to admit inspectors for its nuclear arms.
Kelly then asked Air Force Gen. Anthony Cotton, the head of U.S. Strategic Command, to elaborate on why LRSO is a “critical asset” for the U.S.
ALCM “is still a reliable weapon,” Cotton said. “It’s a safe and secure weapon, but it’s well past its life as far as capability to sustain so we need to replace it with the LRSO, and you’re absolutely right–I’m quite pleased with what I’ve seen with the contractor on the work that they’re doing. It’s fundamental because it’s fundamental to long range stand-off for the air leg of the nuclear triad.”
It appears that the projected acquisition cost for LRSO remains stable and that the Air Force is on schedule for a LRSO Milestone C production decision in 2027. The LRSO program manager’s Acquisition Program Baseline (APB) for LRSO Milestone C has been between April and October 2027, and the Air Force said on March 13 that the production decision is slated for the third quarter of fiscal 2027. The CDR came in on time, as the APB had targeted the CDR between February and August this year.
The estimated acquisition cost for LRSO is $16.2 billion.
The Pentagon’s 2021 Selected Acquisition Report (SAR) on LRSO noted that among significant technical risks were a “B-21-to-LRSO handoff error greater than requirements, [which] potentially reduces LRSO range resulting in LRSO being unable to reach the intended target” and calculations indicating “that when four or more stores are loaded on the rotary launcher, the stores clash with the fuel tank.”
The SAR said that the LRSO program was expected to resolve the handoff error by March last year and the stores-fuel tank interference by June last year.
“The risk addressing B-21 to LRSO handoff error has been fully mitigated and is closed,” the Air Force said on March 13. “The risk concerning interference from rotary launchers has been fully mitigated. Upon receipt of confirmation documentation in May 2023, this risk will be closed.”