The Air Force has refined its position on the nuclear capabilities of the first version of the classified Long-Range Strike Bomber. Since the program’s 2010 inception, service leaders have said the first version of LRS-B wouldn’t be fully configured for the nuclear role, a position that Air Force acquisition executive William LaPlante recently restated. He said the LRS-B design would have provision for adding nuclear capability and hardening in a later variant. However, the Air Force now tells Air Force Magazine “the baseline version (or Block A …) will be nuclear-capable on day one.” A service spokesman said on June 11 the initial LRS-B will have “all the piping, wiring, structure built in; there are no missing technical capabilities.” While the initial model goes through conventional testing, the Air Force will also be doing the legwork to “certify” it for the nuclear mission, a process to be accomplished “within two years,” said the spokesman. Certification involves demonstrating that the airplane works, can carry a nuclear payload, has technicians certified to load and handle the nuclear weapons, and that the bomber’s operating base has proper storage and handling facilities for the nukes. LaPlante said the first LRS-B would be ready for duty in 2024, which means the type would be available for nuclear missions as early as 2026.
Whether the F-35 fighter will get new engines from the Air Force’s cutting-edge Adaptive Engine Transition Program is a question that needs to be resolved at the Defense Department level, Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall told lawmakers May 17—and he anticipates an answer in the 2024 budget.