USAF planning to develop new means of nuclear deterrence

U.S. Air Force 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

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About Jacek Siminski
Standing contributor for TheAviationist. Aviation photojournalist. Co-Founder of Expert in linguistics, Cold War discourse, Cold War history and policy and media communications.


  1. A billion dollars, eh? I can think of better uses for that money. I believe that if you are going to have a fight or war, you do it face to face, mano ye mano, one on one. Nations would be less likely to start something if they had to do that again.

    • It cuts a romantic image doesn’t it. Man versus man. Honor, skill and heroism are are valued. But that is not how wars have ever been fought. Individuals have behaved with honor, skill and heroism but wars fought by nations in the industrial age are the wars of technology. Life and death decided by the push of a button. No skill other than what it takes to place a cursor on a person or object on a computer screen.

      Nothing of war is worth glorifying except its ending.

  2. Yip can’t let “for legal reasons” and the possibility of outspending another nuclear power stop the joy of another arms race. Couple that with billions spent on new ABMs and you can forget about the stability of MAD. Insane if you ask me.

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