Work progress on the LRSO cruise missile (USA)

Work progress on the LRSO cruise missile (USA)
Work progress on the LRSO cruise missile (USA)

In the United States, the development of a promising air-launched cruise missile LRSO continues. This project started in 2015 and has already gone through several stages. A new phase is starting right now, the goal of which is to complete the design, flight tests and start production. According to current plans, serial missiles of a new type will enter the troops only in 2027 and will begin to replace outdated weapons.

In the early stages

Since the early eighties, the AGM-86B ALCM air-launched cruise missile (ALCM) used by B-52H bombers has remained one of the main strategic weapons of the long-range aviation of the US Air Force. According to current plans, despite its obsolescence, it will remain in service until the end of this decade. This requires the creation of a modern replacement model.

At the beginning of the last decade, the Air Force launched work on the creation of a promising rocket. Later this program was called Long-Range Stand-Off (LRSO). At the first stage, scientific organizations and potential contractors had to study the existing challenges and needs, as well as form the general image of the future ALCM and determine the range of required technologies.

The contracts for the competitive development of the LRSO were planned to be concluded in 2015, but this did not happen. At that time, there were active disputes in Congress and the Pentagon about ways to further develop nuclear forces. It got to the point that several senators appealed to the president with a demand to stop the LRSO program. The arguments were the excessive cost of the program, the presence of alternative projects for nuclear weapons and their carriers, as well as the potential negative impact of the ALCM on the international situation.

Based on the results of the discussions, it was decided to continue the LRSO project, but its next stage was launched with a delay. Only in August 2017, the Air Force issued orders to Raytheon and Lockheed Martin for the development of two variants of a cruise missile. They were allocated $ 900 million to complete the work.According to the plans of that time, the competitive part of the program was to continue until 2022.


Ahead of schedule

For unknown reasons, the schedule of the competition was revised, and its results were actually determined long before the appointed date. In mid-April 2020, the Pentagon awarded new contracts for the LRSO design work. In accordance with them, Raytheon became the main contractor. In turn, Lockheed Martin had to stop developing its own version of the LRSO and become a subcontractor for Raytheon.

Customer representatives said that the developers generally coped with the tasks and prepared the necessary project documentation. Already at this stage, ahead of the original schedule, it became possible to choose a more successful design that meets the requirements of the Air Force.

In the wake of such news, discussion of the very need for the creation and procurement of a new ALCM was resumed in light of the high cost, complexity and significant lead times. At the end of last year, opponents of the program received a weighty argument. The Congressional Budget Office has calculated that the cancellation of the development of the LRSO rocket and a special warhead W80-4 for it will allow in 2021-30. save about $ 12.5 billion

However, the Pentagon and Congress did not take into account such assessments, and the program continues. On July 1, 2021, another agreement appeared.The Pentagon issued a contracting company with an order for subsequent design work, flight tests of the rocket and preparation of serial production. Approx. $ 2 billion.They must be completed by 2027.

Challenges for the future

Despite the incoming criticism, the Pentagon does not intend to abandon the LRSO program. Also, work will continue on a number of other programs in the field of strategic nuclear weapons of various kinds. They will be developed and taken to new stages. At the same time, it is planned to regularly evaluate new projects and determine their real prospects. Due to this, it will be possible to preserve the nuclear potential without unnecessary spending.


Various military departments and Congress are currently working on the FY2022 defense budget. According to the existing draft of this document, next year, $ 609 million will be spent on the development of LRSO, which is equivalent to almost a third of the cost of the recent contract. The remaining 70% is likely to be spread over the next five years.

This means that in the next fiscal year, the LRSO will carry out new work of increased complexity and cost. It is possible that by early FY2023. it will be possible to complete the technical design, and then preparations for future flight tests will begin. It was mentioned earlier that the first flight of a new type of ALCM could take place in the mid-twenties - and so far such a time frame is realistic.

Serial deliveries of LRSO missiles will begin in 2027. According to estimates of the recent past, at the first stage of production, the Air Force can acquire approx. 1000 new products. This will re-equip the bombers on duty and create significant stockpiles, displacing outdated ALCM missiles. The possible timing of receiving the first thousand missiles remains unknown.

Features and potential

Work on the LRSO has been going on for almost 10 years, but the main technical information has not yet been disclosed. Some of the customer's requirements and plans are known, as well as their changes as work continues. Contractors, in turn, are not yet ready to show the appearance and announce the design characteristics of their products.

It is known that the Air Force wants to get a cruise missile capable of overcoming a modern advanced missile defense system. These tasks can be solved using stealth technologies in the design and special flight profiles. In terms of range, the LRSO should not be inferior to the old AGM-86B, flying 1500 miles.


It was originally planned to create two modifications of the new ALCM, with nuclear and conventional warheads. Subsequently, the conventional warhead was abandoned. The current version of the project provides for the use of a W80-4 type warhead with a variable yield from 5 to 150 kt.

The LRSO is to be used by several types of carrier aircraft. It will be used by the existing B-52H and prospective B-21. It is noteworthy that in the case of the latter, it will indefinitely become the only compatible nuclear ALCM. It is expected that the emergence of a new missile for different carriers will expand the combat capabilities of strategic aviation.

In the distant future

Thus, the development of a promising LRSO cruise missile for modern and new bombers continues and moves to new stages. In view of the high requirements, the project faces certain difficulties, and its high cost attracts criticism from the thrifty congressmen. Nevertheless, the work does not stop, and their schedule is scheduled for several years in advance.

Obviously, the LRSO project will be completed on the desired date or with a slight deviation from them - and the Air Force will receive a new strategic weapon. The successful completion of the work will be facilitated by both a high level of tactical and technical characteristics and a difficult situation in the arsenals of long-range aviation.

If the LRSO does not enter service by the end of the decade, strategic bombers will be left without nuclear-armed cruise missiles.Such a blow to the potential of nuclear forces is unacceptable, and the Pentagon, together with contractors, is already doing everything possible to prevent it.

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