B-2 Stealth Bomber To Carry New Nuclear Cruise Missile

Gestart door jurrien visser (JuVi op Twitter), 23/04/2013 | 17:47 uur


USAF LRS-B Award To Northrop Grumman Is Upheld

Now that congressional arbiters have backed the U.S. Air Force and incumbent contractor Northrop Grumman over the Long-Range Strike Bomber (LRS-B) program, there are only two main questions left to be addressed.

For losing bidders Boeing and Lockheed Martin, do they sue one of their most important customers? For Northrop, can it deliver on the expected $80 billion program?

So far the respective answers are: 1.) We have not decided, and 2.) Of course we can.

Time will tell, but until then the Northrop-led team chosen in October to provide the Air Force's first LRS-B are enjoying a political and financial boost now that the Government Accountability Office (GAO) has affirmed the armed service's decision.

Boeing and Lockheed Martin, which had paired in a failed bid for the program, had protested the award in November, claiming the Air Force had not properly assessed and valued their proposed production improvements.

GAO federal contract referees, however, said the Air Force's decision followed procedure and denied the protest. "GAO reviewed the challenges to the selection decision raised by Boeing and has found no basis to sustain or uphold the protest," the agency said Feb. 16. "In denying Boeing's protest, GAO concluded that the technical evaluation, and the evaluation of costs, was reasonable, consistent with the terms of the solicitation, and in accordance with procurement laws and regulations."

GAO findings are not binding on executive branch agencies—due to the separation of powers in U.S. government—but they nonetheless carry great weight and receive widespread deference. Executive branch agencies often follow their recommendations or are compelled by Congress to explain why not. And while Boeing or Lockheed still could sue the Air Force in federal court over Northrop's award, the judicial branch often looks to GAO decisions, if any, as a guidepost.

For its part, Boeing remained unbowed. "We continue to believe that our offering represents the best solution for the Air Force and the nation, and that the government's selection process was fundamentally and irreparably flawed," the company said. "We will carefully review the GAO's decision and decide upon our next steps with regard to the protest in the coming days. Given the significance of the LRS-B program, it could not be more critical that the government procure the most capable bomber to serve the warfighter, at the greatest value to the American taxpayer."

Northrop, not surprisingly, said it was "pleased" and "delighted" to resume work on the future bomber—confirming earlier suspicions it had stopped work, as is customary, while GAO reviewed the bid protest and that the Air Force had not insisted otherwise. "This confirms that the U.S. Air Force conducted an extraordinarily thorough selection process and selected the most capable and affordable solution," the company said.

A Pentagon spokesman similarly told reporters that the GAO decision affirms the award. "From our standpoint, we were confident in the original decision," Peter Cook said.

The GAO's decision did not surprise many observers, although some doubt over the outcome emerged this month when the Air Force acknowledged it removed acting acquisition chief Richard Lombardi after he reportedly admitted failing to list his wife's retirement account at Northrop on his annual financial disclosure forms. But service leaders asserted Lombardi was not part of their LRS-B award, which was shepherded by William LaPlante, the recently retired acquisition chief.

Defense investor analyst Byron Callan of Capital Alpha Partners had predicted only a 15% chance of a successful Boeing protest before the GAO decision. Nevertheless, assuming Boeing and Lockheed do not prevail in court or in Congress, where they could lobby for relief, the onus will quickly turn to Northrop to make good on its contract award.

"For Northrop Grumman, the primary issue now that GAO has rendered its decision is to develop the aircraft and its systems within cost and schedule estimates," Callan says. "This remains a risk, in our view, for the 2018-20 time frame given the pace of the program."

Still, with unspoken assurances from Northrop during recent year-ahead forecasting, Wall Street had already factored a GAO victory into the suburban Washington defense contractor's financial expectations for the coming years.

Cowen and Co. analysts told investor clients in January and February notes that their 2016 revenue-growth projections at Northrop assume "modest sales" initially due to LRS-B. That is because the engineering, manufacturing and design contract ramp-up would be "gradual" as engineers are hired and get security clearances. Yet revenue growth should accelerate at least at a 5% pace in 2017-18, according to Cowen.

Jefferies analysts concur. "We would estimate LRS-B contributes an incremental $300 million from 2015 levels," they said Jan. 29. "Management has factored in a month-by-month step-up."

For Boeing and Lockheed, investors have other issues to consider. While the Air Force's T/X trainer effort remains an opportunity for both, each has challenges to address now, according to Callan.

"For Boeing, this places more pressure on the company to secure an F/A-18 sale to Kuwait and another of F-15s to Qatar," he says. "For Lockheed Martin, the decision means the company can focus on completing development of the F-35, drive unit costs down and address spares issues that have vexed the Defense Department."


jurrien visser (JuVi op Twitter)

B-2 Stealth Bomber To Carry New Nuclear Cruise Missile

By Hans M. Kristensen / April 22, 2013

The U.S. Air Force plans to arm the B-2A stealth bomber with a new nuclear cruise missile that is in the early stages of development, according to Air Force officials and budget documents.

The B-2A bomber, which is designed to slip through air defenses undetected, does not currently have a capability to deliver nuclear cruise missiles, a role reserved exclusively for B-52H bombers.

Under the Air Force's plans, however, the new nuclear cruise missile – known as the Long-Range Standoff Weapon – will arm three nuclear bombers: the B-2A, the B-52H, and the next-generation Long-Range Strike Bomber.

Recent Statements

The disclosure that the new nuclear cruise missile will be carried on the B-2A, B-52H, as well as the next generation bomber has emerged in recent Air Force testimony to Congress, the Air Force's FY2014 budget request, and in a little notice interview in Air Force Magazine.

Maj. Gen. Garrett Harencak, assistant chief of staff for Air Force strategic deterrence and nuclear integration, informed Congress last week that the Long-Range Standoff (LRSO) nuclear cruise missile "will be designed at its outset to be compatible with B-52, B-2, and the LRS-B" (Long-Range Strike-Bomber).

Lieutenant General James Kowalski, the commander of Air Force Global Strike Command, confirmed: "The LRSO will be the follow-on to the aging ALCM and will be compatible with the B-52, B-2 and LRS-B."

The Air Force budget request for FY2014 reveals that integration on the B-2 is already underway as part of a program known as Flexible Strike:

B-2 armament upgrades integrate new and/or advanced weapons on the B-2 to address a wider array of target sets, to include moving targets, and hardened, deeply buried targets. The Flexible Strike Phase 1 program — formerly known as Stores Management Operational Flight Program re-host — will recombine and rehost the current B-2 stores management software onto a new integrated processor, providing the processing and bandwidth to handle advanced digital weapons such as B61-12 or Long Range Stand Off (LRSO).

Production and fielding of the Flexible Strike Phase 1 program is planned for FY2016-FY2017, in time to receive the new guided B61-12 bomb in 2019 and the LRSO cruise missile in the mid/late-2020s.

An Expensive New Nuclear Weapon

In the public debate about the cost of nuclear weapons modernizations, it is often said that the new long-range strike bomber is not a significant nuclear cost because most of its mission is non-nuclear. But that ignores the expensive nuclear payloads (B61-12 and LRSO) that are intended to arm the new bomber.

The full cost of the new nuclear cruise missile is not known yet, because it will not become operational until the mid/late-2020s. But the budget projections in the FY2014 budget request indicate that it will be a very expensive weapon system.

Over the next five years alone, design and development costs for the missile are expected to reach more than $1 billion. Costs will presumably continue to accumulate significantly through the mid/late-2020s as full-scale production and delivery of the weapon get underway.


In addition to the cost of the missile itself, the production of the nuclear warhead will add even more. Rather than a new warhead, the Air Force plans to use a life-extended version of an existing warhead: W80-1, W84, or the B61. If other life-extension programs are any indication, then the LRSO warhead program can be expected to cost several billion dollars.

The Mission

The B-2A bomber is designed to penetrate air defenses undetected. So why would the Air Force want to add a nuclear cruise missile to its mission? The answer appears to be that expected improvements in enemy air defense systems by 2030 will make the stealth bomber less stealthy and that a standoff capability therefore is needed for the nuclear strike mission.

When deployed on the B-2A, the LRSO will give the stealth bombers a nuclear standoff capability to carry out missions in heavy air defense environments, according to Billy Mullins, the associated director of strategic deterrence and nuclear integration on the Air Staff.

But that doesn't quite explain why the Air Force has decided to make the new cruise missile compatible with all three bombers. After all, the B-52H already provides a standoff capability. Perhaps the LRSO will be dual-capable (although this has not been stated) or that the Air Force has simply decided to add a new nuclear cruise missile to all three bombers to provide maximum flexibility.

The new nuclear cruise missile will probably have extended range and stealth features similar to or better than the Advanced Cruise Missile (ACM) that the Air Force retired in 2007. The Air Force states that LRSO "will be capable of penetrating and surviving advanced Integrated Air Defense Systems (IADS) from significant stand off range to prosecute strategic targets in support of the Air Force's global attack capability and strategic deterrence core function."

Expanding Nuclear Capabilities

Since the B-2A does not currently carry nuclear cruise missiles, which are exclusively for B-52H bombers, but only gravity bombs (B61-7, B61-11, and B83-1), adding the LRSO will significantly increase the military capability of the B-2A weapon system.

Moreover, adding LRSO capability to all three bombers would be a significant expansion of the nuclear cruise missile capacity of the U.S. bomber fleet. Currently, some 528 ALCMs are assigned to 44 B-52H bombers in four squadrons of the 2nd and 5th Bomb Wings. In the future, also the 509th Bomb Wing at Whiteman AFB would also receive nuclear cruise missiles, as would the bases that receive the next-generation bomber.


Most important in term of capability, perhaps, is the transition of nuclear cruise missiles onto stealth platforms (B-2A and LRS-B) that have a much better penetration capability than the current cruise missile carrier (B-52H). This will significantly change where and when in a conflicts nuclear cruise missiles can be used, an enhancement that will be boosted even further by the fact that the LRSO cruise missile probably will be more advanced than the ALCM it replaces.

It seems a bit strange, though, to spend money adding LRSO capability to the B-52H because that bomber is scheduled to retain the ALCM to 2030 and retire only 10 years later. The ALCM is currently undergoing refurbishment to ensure that it can remain in service through the 2020s.

Overall, the nuclear capability of the bomber force is expected to change significantly over the next couple of decades as older weapons are retired and new ones added. In addition to the new LRSO, this includes the new guided B61-12 bomb and the possible retirement of the B61-7 and B83-1 bombs.


Eventually, both the B-2A and B-52H (as well as the non-nuclear B-1B) will be replaced by a fleet of 100 Long-Range Strike Bombers. Probably not all of them will be nuclear-capable, though, but perhaps half equipped with the B61-12 and LRSO nuclear weapons.

Implications and Recommendations

The implications of adding nuclear cruise missile capability to the B-2A stealth bomber are many. They include improved military capabilities, extensive costs, and the international perception of what U.S. nuclear arms control policy is in the 21st century.

If one believes that a nuclear cruise missile is still needed, a better and less expensive alternative would be to only add LRSO capability to the next-generation bomber and phase out the nuclear capability of B-52H when the current ALCM retires around 2030.

Either way, deploying an improved nuclear cruise missile on improved stealthy bombers appears to challenge the Obama administration's promise to reduce the role of nuclear weapons and not to add military capabilities during life-extension programs.

The United States is not alone in the continued modernization of nuclear weapons. Russia is also building a new nuclear cruise missile for its bombers, and China is adding cruise missiles to some of its intermediate-range bomber (although there is no indication yet that they are nuclear). France has just introduced a new nuclear cruise missile on its fighter-bombers, and Pakistan is working on two nuclear cruise missiles for its aircraft.

These are only a fraction of the nuclear modernizations underway in all the nuclear weapons states. All hold speeches about ending nuclear arms competition, reducing the numbers and role of nuclear weapons, and pursuing a world free of nuclear weapons, yet all continue to do what they have always done: building and deploying new nuclear weapons.

This publication was made possible by a grant from the Ploughshares Fund. The statements made and views expressed are solely the responsibility of the author.