The U.S. Air Force is moving ahead with plans to modernize its inventory of nuclear weapons and delivery systems, a top service general said.
The Air Force plans to maintain and modernize its Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missiles and extend the life of the air-launched cruise missile (ALCM) so both last until at least 2030, according to Maj. Gen. William Chambers, assistant chief of staff for strategic deterrence and nuclear integration at the Pentagon.
The ALCM improvement programs include the guidance and flight control system and warhead arming components.
At the same time, the Air Force plans to modernize the B-2 stealth bomber and keep flying the B-52 bomber “until a replacement capability comes online,” Chambers said.
“The B-52 has recently seen some of the highest readiness rates in its 60-year history,” he said during a May 24 speech sponsored by the National Defense Industrial Association. “It remains one of our most flexible airframes and one of the least expensive to operate.”
Replacements for the Minuteman III and ALCM also are in the works.
The Air Force also has “dual capable plans ready as the F-35 program matures,” Chambers said. This would allow the Joint Strike Fighter to launch nuclear weapons, like today’s F-15E and F-16 fighter jets.
Service officials have made “significant strides in assessing and modernizing the nation’s nuclear command-and-control network,” and have established a baseline nuclear command, control and communications architecture, Chambers said.
“We’re focused on a very prioritized investment strategy concentrating on our senior leadership aircraft, our bomber fleet and multiple cryptographic improvements,” he said.