Congress has repealed a requirement for the U.S. Air Force to develop a conventional variant of the Long-Range Standoff (LRSO) air-launched cruise missile. A nuclear LRSO is currently under development to replace the nuclear-armed AGM-86B Air-Launched Cruise Missile (ALCM). For decades, the Air Force also operated the AGM-86C Conventional Air-Launched Cruise Missile (CALCM), but the weapon was removed from service in November 2019.
The FY19 defense authorization bill included a provision that called for the Air Force to field a conventional LRSO to replace the AGM-86C no later than five years after the nuclear-armed LRSO achieves initial operational capability. However, the latest FY20 defense authorization bill repealed that requirement.
The Air Force has maintained that the extended-range Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile (JASSM-ER) fills the requirement for a conventional air-launched cruise missile, and that development of a conventional LRSO is unnecessary. Lockheed Martin is also developing an extreme-range version of the JASSM, dubbed the JASSM-XR. The company was awarded a $51 million contract for development work in September 2018. The repeal of the conventional LRSO requirement will allow the Air Force to continue its JASSM efforts unhindered.
A separate provision in the FY20 defense authorization bill directs the Pentagon to brief lawmakers on potential opportunities to increase commonality between the LRSO and the Navy’s planned nuclear-capable sea-launched cruise missile (SLCM-N). The briefing should also discuss ways to leverage LRSO technologies in the development of SLCM-N.
The SLCM-N is a capability called for in the Pentagon’s 2018 Nuclear Posture Review. The missile is intended to be launched from surface ships and submarines. The Navy used to field the nuclear Tomahawk land attack missile (TLAM-N), but that weapon was removed from service following the 2010 Nuclear Posture Review.