The US Air Force has both accelerated development of its long-range standoff weapon (LRSO) and dramatically increased funding to the programme over the next five years.
LRSO seeks a nuclear-capable replacement for the Boeing AGM-86 air launched cruise missile (ALCM) carried by the Boeing B-52 and Northrop Grumman B-2 bombers.
Since 2012, four companies have been working on trade studies for the LRSO design: Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman and Raytheon.
The programme had been gearing up to release a request for proposals in the first half of 2017, but the FY2016 budget request moves up the start date in the fourth quarter this year. A technology maturation and risk reduction contract award is now expected by the end of 2016.
LRSO netted $36 million in fiscal 2016, but that figure increases exponentially to a peak of $650 million in FY 2019. Just short of $5 million was allocated to the programme in the current fiscal year and the programme was set to top out at $144 million in fiscal 2019 in that spending plan.
Despite hastening the pace of development, the LRSO is one of a handful of air force programmes where officials are planning to sacrifice capability to save money. USAF Secretary Deborah Lee James in January announced that four programmes, including LRSO, will undergo a cost/capability analysis (CCA) to identify capability downgrades that could yield significant cost savings while still achieving prescribed requirements.