USAF, Navy 'Not Collaborating' On Nuclear Cruise Missile Projects

air-launched cruise missile
In November, an Air Force ground crew demilitarized the last AGM-86C conventional air-launched cruise missile. The nuclear version will continue in service until it is replaced by the LRSO in 2030.
Credit: Airman 1st Class Jacob B. Wrightsman/U.S. Air Force

The U.S. Air Force and Navy are not cooperating currently on a future nuclear cruise missile despite active development programs by both services, according to Gen. Timothy Ray, head of Air Force Global Strike Command. 

The Navy requested $5.2 million in the fiscal 2022 budget proposal sent to Congress to launch the nuclear Sea-Launched Cruise Missile (SLCM-N) program, a weapons program inserted into the nuclear portfolio by the Trump administration. 

The Air Force, meanwhile, plans to begin the engineering and manufacturing development phase for the Raytheon AGM-181 Long-Range Standoff (LRSO) missile later this year. 

“The Navy's pretty good at that business, and we're here to help them if they want our help, but to jump in directly with them right now is not something we're doing,” Ray told Aviation Week during an online nuclear deterrence discussion hosted by the Air Force Association. 

But the Air Force and the Navy are discussing common guidance systems “and some other components” on future intercontinental ballistic missiles, Ray says, naming the Northrop Grumman Ground-Based Strategic Deterrent and the Lockheed Martin Trident II D5 Life Extension 2 programs. 

The Air Force, meanwhile, hopes to ramp-up spending on LRSO in fiscal 2022. Last year, the Pentagon projected spending $459 million in fiscal 2022, but the Air Force instead sent a budget request to Congress for $609 million next year. 

Although LRSO is necessary for the Boeing B-52H fleet to remain a nuclear delivery platform, some lawmakers want to cancel the program as a needless and potentially de-stabilizing weapon system. Last year, a conference of lawmakers voted to reduce the program’s budget by $30 million in fiscal 2021. 

That cut is partly why the Air Force proposed a $250 million increase in fiscal 2022, Ray said. 

“We did take the [budget cut] last year,” Ray said. “And I think that we as a department know we have to put our money on that program to go make it right and to go get it where it needs to be.”

Steve Trimble

Steve covers military aviation, missiles and space for the Aviation Week Network, based in Washington DC.


1 Comment
A problem for many decades is that a missile that will fit in a torpedo tube will not fit in a bomb-bay and vice versa.