Cruise Missile Warhead Pick Coming

Air Force nuclear deterrence planners are building the requirements for the service’s future air-launched nuclear cruise missile and will likely choose which warhead will go on the weapon this spring, said Billy Mullins, associate director of strategic deterrence and nuclear integration on the Air Staff. In a Jan. 16 interview, Mullins said there are three warhead candidates for the Long Range Standoff vehicle, or LRSO: the W80 warhead currently used on the AGM-86 Air Launched Cruise Missile that LRSO is meant to replace; the B61 nuclear bomb warhead; and the W84, the design formerly integrated on the now-retired BGM-109G Ground Launched Cruise Missile. LRSO is part of the Air Force’s notional future “long-range strike family of systems” that will be centered on a new nuclear-capable bomber, dubbed LRS-B. “We don’t see any reason why we won’t need an air delivery system” as part of the LRS family, said Mullins. Regardless of the warhead chosen, the future bomber will carry LRSO, as will the B-52 fleet, and the service’s B-2s, he said. In the case of the latter, LRSO will give the stealth bombers a nuclear standoff capability to carry out missions in heavy air defense environments, he noted. (See also Streamlining the Nuclear Stockpile for more from Mullins’ interview.)