By Debbie Gregory.
The U.S. Air Force has asked defense firms to bid to supply new intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) and Long-Range Standoff Weapons (LRSOs), which are nuclear cruise missiles. It is rumored that the Air Force intends this next generation of ICBMs will have the capability to be deployed on mobile launchers.
A 2014 report by the RAND Corp. on the future of the ICBM force said a “mobile missile must be designed and built to more-demanding specifications then a silo-based ICBM,” such as remaining “reliable under the rigors of periodic movement.” The Minuteman III currently is not capable of being put on a mobile platform.
The controversial move comes during a time of heightened tensions with Russia.
Ten senators, all Democrats, have asked the Obama administration to scale back plans for new nuclear weapons, as well as the bombers and submarines that would be used to transport 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.
In a statement, Air Force officials 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 Air Force maintains that 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.
The Pentagon wants to deploy the new ICBMs in the late 2020s.