Lockheed Martin may have lost out on designing America’s next-generation ICBM, but the company has been selected to help replace the vintage AGM-86 Air Launched Cruise Missile. The US$900 million US Air Force Technical Maturation and Risk Reduction (TMRR) contract tasks the company with developing the technology needed to build the nuclear-capable Long Range Stand Off (LRSO) missile.
If you’ve ever wondered why the United States still maintains fleets of heavy bombers in an age of super sophisticated anti-aircraft defenses, part of the answer is the AGM-86. Operational since 1986, the variants of the Boeing-built cruise missile allowed the bombers to still pay a key role as a leg of the nuclear deterrent triad.
Today, bombers like the B-52 are unlikely to be able to penetrate enemy airspace to drop nuclear or conventional weapons on sites heavily defended by advanced anti-aircraft systems. But the air-launched AGM-86’s compact Williams F107 turbofan jet engine, terrain-hugging radar navigation, and small radar signature allow bombers to stand off and launch cruise missiles from over 1,500 mi (2,400 km) to attack strategic targets.