File photo – an unarmed AGM-86B Air-Launched Cruise Missile is released from a B-52H Stratofortress over the Utah Test and Training Range during a Nuclear Weapons System Evaluation Program sortie Sept. 22, 2014. (File photo by Staff Sgt. Roidan Carlson)
U. S. Air Force weapons developers working with the industry to aim for the first prototypes of a new air-launched, nuclear-armed cruise missile be able to designate targets with potential attacks from much further ranges than bombers can usually fall.
Service engineers and weapons architects are now working with partners from the industry on the early concepts, configurations, and prototypes for the weapon is planned to be operational by the end of the next decade – to the end of 2020.
Many senior Pentagon and Air Force officials believe that the emerging nuclear-armed Long-Range Stand-Off weapon will enable strike forces to attack deep into enemy territory and help in overcoming high-tech on the challenges posed by the emerging opponent’s air defenses.
The air force awarded two $900 million LRSO deals last year, both Raytheon and Lockheed Martin as an important step in the direction of selecting a supplier for the next phase of the weapon’s development. Because of the fast-growing emerging threats, the air force now provides an operational LRSO by the end of 2020 – in contrast to previous thoughts they can’t wait until the 2030s.
While many of the details of the weapons progress not are available naturally for security reasons, Air Force officials tell the Warrior Maven that plans to be in the Engineering and Manufacturing Development phase on the way to 2022.
A cruise missile armed with nuclear weapons, it may be possible to targets that are inaccessible for even stealth bombers, in some cases.
As a result, senior Air Force leaders continue to claim that the creation of a new, modern Long-Range stand-off weapons with a nuclear capacity may be one of the few assets, weapons, or platforms able to penetrate new high-tech air defenses. Such a possibility is, as a consequence, deemed to be of crucial importance to nuclear deterrence and the ratio needed in order to avoid great-power warfare.
“The United States has never had a long range nuclear cruise missiles to stealthy bombers,” Hans Kristensen, Director of the Nuclear Information Project, Federation of American Scientists, told the Warrior Maven.
Therefore, in the event of a major nuclear attack on the united states, a stand-off air launched nuclear cruise missile may be of the few weapons that are able to hit back and, as a result, the function as an essential deterrent against a first-strike nuclear attack.
“There may be a defense that are just too hard. They can be so redundant, that penetrating bombers is a challenge. But with a stand-off (enabled by a long series of LRSO), I can make holes and cracks to a penetrating bomber to get in,” the Lt. Gen. Stephen Wilson, former Commander of Air Force Global Strike Command, (and the Current Vice-chief of staff of the air force) told Mitchell Institute in 2014.
At the same time, some experts have concerns about whether a nuclear-armed cruise missile be able to blur the crucial distinction between conventional and nuclear attacks and therefore potentially increasing the risk and lowering the threshold of nuclear warfare.
“We have never been in a nuclear war where the escalation is about to occur and early warning systems are ready to search for signs of surprise nuclear attacks. In such a scenario, a decision by a military power to launch a conventional attack, but the opponent expected, and mistakenly interprets it as a nuclear attack could contribute to an overreaction that escalates the crisis,” Kristensen said.
Potential for misinterpretation and unintended escalation, Kristensen said, may still be reinforced by the existence of different long-range conventional cruise missiles, like the Tomahawk and JASSM-ER. Also in the coming years, more conventional cruise missiles and hypersonic weapons, are likely to arise as well, making the prospect of further confusion among potential opponents, he explained.
“Stealthy bombers equipped with plenty of stealthy LRSOs would – in the eyes of an opponent – the perfect surprise attack weapon,” Kristensen said.
However, senior Air Force and Pentagon weapons developers, many of whom are strong advocates for the LRSO, faith, the weapon will have the opposite effect of an increase of the prospects for peace-by adding new layers of deterrence.
“LRSO reduce escalations through all the stages of the potential conflict,” Robert Scher, former Sec. of Defense for Strategy, Plans and Capabilities, told Congress in 2015, according to a report from the Federation of American Scientists.
In fact, this kind of thinking is analogous to what is written in the current administration of the Nuclear Posture Review, which among other things call for several new low-yield nuclear weapons options to increase deterrence in the midst of rapidly emerging threats. During the discussion of these new weapons options, including a lower yield and a submarine launched nuclear weapon, Defense Secretary James Mattis told Congress the additional attack capabilities could help to bring Russia back to the negotiating table on the violations of the INF Treaty.
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