plans to modernize its nuclear deterrence capabilities.
According to the philosophy of the USAF, there is a great need to possess all kinds of weapons and as large variety of means as possible. Still, using a nuclear warhead in a small scale conflict would be impossible due to both political and psychological reasons.
The modernization is to include fitting the B-2 Spirit bombers with the nuclear warheads in the form of cruise missiles. The extraterrestial looking bat-plane so far had no ability to carry nuke cruise missiles.
For legal reasons, USAF is unable to develop new nuclear warheads, hence the old weapons (as B61-7, B61-11 and B83-1 gliding bombs) have to undergo refurbishment and maitenance, and the new weapons will have to use old type of warhead. The same thing applies to any new missile – it has to use a warhead based on old technology.
The proposed new missile is called LRSO – Long Range Stand-Off. It is to replace the ALCM and ACM weapons that are currently the basic strategic weapon in the USAF arsenal.
Since nuclear scare is one of the basic USAF tactics (as demonstrated by the B-2 bomber visit to South Korea earlier this year), USAF generals, such as Maj. Gen. Garrett Harenack, agree that there is a need of modernizing the current nuclear weapons, such as B-61 bombs.
The LRSO is to be introduced in the mid-20s of the 21st century. Research and development will be costly, constituting a sum of over a billion USD. The B-52 will be able to carry just LRSO missiles, hence the program is crucial for the USAF to keep its nuclear capabilities.
Along with the LRS-B, LRSO is to be the basic strategic weapon in the USAF arsenal.
The SORT agreement made the Americans withdraw the AGM-129 missiles, with a range of 3,700 km. They also were the only nuclear warheads created according to the stealth standards.
The LRSO and B-61-12 are going to be tactical, with a purpose of neutralizing structures, such as bunkers. The potential candidates for LRSO warheads include W80, W84 or B61-12, with respective yields of 5-150, 0.2-150 or up to 50 kilotons. It must be remembered though that in case of W80 and W84, the warheads would have to be refurbished and upgraded.
Jacek Siminski for TheAviationist
Top Image credit: U.S. Air Force