Despite Objections, Pentagon Takes Step Toward Buying New Nuclear Weapons

A B-52 Stratofortress is refueled in flight on April 2, 2014 over the Pacific Ocean near Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii.

U.S. Air Force / Staff Sgt. Nathan Allen

AA Font size + Print

A B-52 Stratofortress is refueled in flight on April 2, 2014 over the Pacific Ocean near Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii.

The U.S. Air Force has asked defense firms to bid to supply new ICBMs and controversial nuclear cruise missiles.

The U.S. Air Force took a first step toward buying controversial new nuclear weapons Friday, asking defense companies to submit bids to design and build cruise missiles and ICBMs.

The move comes amid the highest tension with Russia since the end of the Cold War and flies in the face of senators who have called on the Obama administration to cancel plans to build the  new cruise missile, called the Long-Range Standoff Weapon, or LRSO.

“The LRSO weapon system will be a cost-effective force multiplier for B-52, B-2, and B-21 aircraft to credibly deter adversaries and assure U.S. allies of our deterrent capabilities,” the Air Force officials said in a statement, referring to the two existing and one planned nuclear-capable bombers.

In the statement, they said they would choose up to two contractors by the fourth quarter of 2017 to build the new cruise missiles. Those two contractors will then compete for 54 months “to complete a preliminary design with demonstrated reliability and manufacturability, which will be followed by a competitive down-select to a single contractor,” the statement said.

A group of 10 senators, all Democrats, have called on the Obama administration to scale back its plans for new nuclear weapons and the bombers and submarines that will carry them. The senators specifically called for canceling LRSO, saying it could save taxpayers $20 billion.

“Nuclear war poses the gravest risk to American national security,” the senators wrote.

The Air Force countered that argument Friday, saying the new cruise missile is necessary to replace its current air-launched cruise missiles, which were designed in the 1970s and built in the 1980s. The Air Force wants the new missiles by 2030.

Related: Pentagon: We Can’t Afford to Replace Aging ICBMs, Bombers, Subs

Related: Is That All There Is? Obama’s Disappointing Nuclear Legacy

Related: Russia is Proving Why Nuclear-Tipped Cruise Missiles Are a Very Bad Idea

LRSO is a critical element of the United States’ nuclear deterrence strategy,” said Maj. Gen. Scott Jansson, commander of the Air Force Nuclear Weapons Center and Air Force program executive officer for strategic systems. “Releasing this solicitation is a critical step toward affordably recapitalizing the aging air leg of the nuclear triad.”

The triad is a reference to the Pentagon’s three nuclear arms, Air Force strategic bombers, intercontinental ballistic missiles and Navy submarines, which carry nuclear missiles.

The Air Force also issues a solicitation Friday to buy new ICBMs to replace the Minuteman, which date back to the 1960s, but have been upgraded over the years. The Air Force calls the replacement project the “Ground-Based Strategic Deterrent.”

“The new GBSD weapon system will meet existing national requirements, while having the adaptability and flexibility to affordably address changing technology and threat environments through 2075,” the Air Force said.

The Pentagon wants to deploy the new ICBMs in the late 2020s.

The Congressional Budget Office last year estimated it would cost about $350 billion to buy new nuclear weapons, ICBMs, stealth bombers, submarines and cruise missiles, between 2015 and 2024 based on the Pentagon’s current plans. The total cost of buying all of the new weapons over the next 25 years is estimated at more than $700 billion.

Related: Trump’s NATO-Rattling Interview Has Delayed a Key Evolution in US Nuclear Posture

Related: Is That All There Is? Obama’s Disappointing Nuclear Legacy

Related: No More Nuclear-Tipped Cruise Missiles

Related: Bernie Sanders Looks Pretty Darn Establishment on Nuclear Weapons

Last October, the Air Force announced it had selected Northrop Grumman to build new stealth bombers that will carry nuclear weapons. The B-2 and B-52 are the Air Force’s two active strategic bombers that can carry both nuclear and conventional bombs. The Navy is in the early stages of buying new submarines, which will replace the Ohio-class subs.

Friday’s announcement comes as Congress is out of session until after the Labor Day holiday in September.

Close [ x ] More from DefenseOne
 
 

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from DefenseOne.com.
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Software-Defined Networking

    So many demands are being placed on federal information technology networks, which must handle vast amounts of data, accommodate voice and video, and cope with a multitude of highly connected devices while keeping government information secure from cyber threats. This issue brief discusses the state of SDN in the federal government and the path forward.

    Download
  • Military Readiness: Ensuring Readiness with Analytic Insight

    To determine military readiness, decision makers in defense organizations must develop an understanding of complex inter-relationships among readiness variables. For example, how will an anticipated change in a readiness input really impact readiness at the unit level and, equally important, how will it impact readiness outside of the unit? Learn how to form a more sophisticated and accurate understanding of readiness and make decisions in a timely and cost-effective manner.

    Download
  • Cyber Risk Report: Cybercrime Trends from 2016

    In our first half 2016 cyber trends report, SurfWatch Labs threat intelligence analysts noted one key theme – the interconnected nature of cybercrime – and the second half of the year saw organizations continuing to struggle with that reality. The number of potential cyber threats, the pool of already compromised information, and the ease of finding increasingly sophisticated cybercriminal tools continued to snowball throughout the year.

    Download
  • A New Security Architecture for Federal Networks

    Federal government networks are under constant attack, and the number of those attacks is increasing. This issue brief discusses today's threats and a new model for the future.

    Download
  • Information Operations: Retaking the High Ground

    Today's threats are fluent in rapidly evolving areas of the Internet, especially social media. Learn how military organizations can secure an advantage in this developing arena.

    Download

When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.