One or the Other

The Air Force’s nuclear-armed Long-Range Standoff (LRSO) missile program should be shelved, an arms control expert at the the Brookings Institution wrote in an in an editorial published by Defense News on May 26. Steven Pifer, director of the think tank’s arms control and non-proliferation initiative, argued the replacement for the air-launched cruise missile would be redundant if the B-21 can “defeat and penetrate air defenses” as planned. He noted the Air Force developed the aging nuclear-armed ALCMs—expected to be retired between 2020 and 2030—because the B-52 “presented a big target for adversary radars.” “If, on the other hand, the stealth of the B-21 will be compromised in the not-too-distant future, then one has to question the wisdom of spending $60 billion to $80 billion—and perhaps more—to procure the B-21,” he wrote. He suggested a modified Boeing 767 armed with the LRSO could stand up the third leg of the strategic triad if the B-21 is scrapped. In a December letter, the Air Force Association urged senior leaders of the House and Senate Armed Services Committees to fund the LRSO because “without a sustained bomber standoff capability enabled by a modern cruise missile, the bomber leg of the triad will be increasingly at risk.” (See also: Former Chiefs, Secretaries Rally for B-21.)