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US Air Force grants Raytheon $2bn to develop nuclear cruise missile

An unarmed AGM-86B Air-Launched Cruise Missile maneuvers over the Utah Test and Training Range during a Nuclear Weapons System Evaluation Program simulated combat mission Sept. 22, 2014. (File photo)

The US Air Force has awarded major arms maker Raytheon Technologies a $2 billion contract to develop the Pentagon's new air-launched nuclear cruise missile.

Raytheon is helping to design and develop the Long Range Stand Off weapon, known as LRSO, the US Defense Department declared in awarding the contract, noting that the work is expected to be completed in February 2027, when it would transition into production, the US-based reported Friday.

According to the report, the nuclear weapon is planned for the B-52 Stratofortress bomber, as well as the B-2 Spirit and the future B-21 Long-Range Strike Bomber.

Unlike weapon systems that can be upgraded later on after being delivered to US military services, it adds, LRSO -- projected to have a range beyond 1,500 miles -- needs to meet all the requirements and certifications from the beginning because of its nuclear capability.

The latest award is just one small piece of the broader overhaul of the total nuclear arsenal, the report further underlines, pointing that the Congressional Budget Office estimates it will cost American taxpayers $1.2 trillion over the next 30 years to modernize the entire US nuclear arsenal, including equipment within each leg of the triad -- lCBMs, strategic bombers and submarine-launched ballistic missiles -- and crucial communications.

The LRSO program will replace the 1980s-era AGM-86B Air-Launched Cruise Missile, known as ALCM, providing an air-launched capability as part of the nuclear triad.

In 2017, the US Air Force awarded contracts to Lockheed and Raytheon to begin preliminary work on LRSO. The deals were valued at $900 million each and were to last nearly five years "to mature design concepts and prove developmental technologies," the Air Force said at the time.

This is while the US Defense Department has faced growing scrutiny in recent months over efforts to develop next-generation intercontinental ballistic missiles to replace the country’s aging Minuteman IIIs.

The report further cited experts as saying that the Ground Based Strategic Deterrent (GBSD) program, overseen by the US Air Force, could cost $85 billion to $100 billion for the ICBM infrastructure alone. The service in September awarded Northrop Grumman a $13.3 billion contract for the engineering and manufacturing development (EMD) phase for GBSD.

Consequently, some progressive lawmakers have suggested relying solely on submarines and bombers to act as America's nuclear deterrent, according to a report by Defense News.

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