Air Force awards contracts for air launched missile

The Air Force announced Wednesday that it awarded contracts to Lockheed Martin Corporation and Raytheon Company on the long range standoff weapon.

This comes just days after contracts were awarded for the first phase of replacing the Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile system, which is operated at Malmstrom Air Force Base, along with F.E. Warren and Minot.

Air Force awards two contracts for Minuteman III ICBM replacement

The LRSO will replace the aging AGM-86B air launched cruise missile with modernized weapon capabilities designed for its nuclear bomber fleet, to include the still in development B-21. The LRSO would differ from the current missile in that in could be used on multiple airframes and armed with either a nuclear or conventional warhead.

Each company was awarded a contract of approximately $900 million, with an approximate 54-month period of performance. Upon successful completion of the contracts, the Air Force Nuclear Weapons Center will choose a single contractor for the Engineering and Manufacturing Development and Production and Deployment phases of the program.

“This weapon will modernize the air-based leg of the nuclear triad,” Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson said in a release. “Deterrence works if our adversaries know that we can hold at risk things they value. This weapon will enhance our ability to do so, and we must modernize it cost-effectively.”

The current air launched cruise missile was first fielded in the early 1980s with a 10-year design life, and Lockheed and Raytheon are charged with developing the technologies and demonstrating reliability and maintainability of a replacement weapon, according to the AFNWC. The current missile will continue to face operational and reliability challenges until replaced. The Air Force plans to start fielding LRSO in the late 2020s.

“These contract awards mark another important step in replacing our aging Air Launched Cruise Missiles,” said Maj. Gen. Scott Jansson, commander of the AFNWC and Air Force program executive officer for strategic systems. “Continued competition will help ensure the bomber leg of the nuclear triad is cost-effectively modernized with a survivable, reliable, and credible standoff capability.”

The LRSO program office, located at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., is part of the AFNWC Air Delivered Capabilities directorate. Headquartered at Kirtland AFB, AFNWC is responsible for synchronizing all aspects of nuclear materiel management on behalf of Air Force Materiel Command, in direct support of AFGSC. The center has more than 1,100 personnel assigned to 17 locations worldwide, including a small contingent at Malmstrom.