Thursday, September 22, 2011

U.S. Air Force To Replace ALCM

     Defense News reports that the USAF is planning to replace the aging AGM-86 Air Launched Cruise Missile with a new stealth cruise missiles.
     The AGM-86 was selected to be the Air Force's air launched cruise missile back in the 1980s. Since then the ALCM has seen service in Operation Desert Storm, and in several other operations over Iraq. As of 2011 all ALCMs are AGM-86Bs which are equipped with a single W-80 nuclear warhead which has yeild of between 5 and 150 kilotons. As of 2011 the AGM-86B and AGM-129 are the only nuclear weapons the B-52 is capable of carrying, and due to reliability issues and cost the AGM-129 is being phased out of service. The AGM-86B is also going phased out of service due to it's age and the New START treaty.
     With the retiring of the AGM-86B and the AGM129 this will leave the B-52 without a nuclear mission, that is why the Air Force is planning to start a new nuclear cruise missile program. This proposed missile will be stealthy, have a long range, and "be able to penetrate the most challenging of enemy air defense systems" in the words of Maj. General William Chambers the Air Force's strategic deterrence and nuclear integration officer.
     However, this program may never get off the ground as Congress has yet to come to a compromise over budget cuts, and if they do not, a large amount (1+ trillion dollars) of the defense budget will be cut. But, if this program actually survives then it will be fascinating to see how the program progresses and what capabilities the cruise missile will have.

Photo Credit: USAF

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