WASHINGTON -- As one former defense secretary tries to kill the Pentagon's effort to develop a next-generation nuclear cruise missile capability, the Air Force Association is urging Congress to move ahead with funding the program.

William Perry, who led the Defense Department's development and procurement of the B-2 stealth bomber and the current air-launched cruise missile in the 1990s, urged President Obama to cancel the Long Range Stand-Off (LRSO) program, arguing the step could lay the foundation for a global ban on nuclear weapons.

"Because they can be launched without warning and come in both nuclear and conventional variants, cruise missiles are a uniquely destabilizing type of weapon," Perry wrote in an Oct. 15 Washington Post op-ed. President Obama can lead the world to a stabler and safer future by canceling plans for a new U.S. nuclear-capable cruise missile."

AFA challenged Perry's suggestion in a Dec. 14 letter to leaders of the four defense congressional committees, arguing that building LRSO to arm the Long Range Strike Bomber, the planned B-2 replacement, is critical to national security. The current capability, the Air Launched Cruise Missile (ALCM), is essential to the nuclear deterrent role of the bomber leg of the Pentagon's nuclear triad, AFA President Larry Spencer and Executive Vice President Mark Barrett wrote in the letter.

"Funding its replacement, LRSO, is particularly important given the advanced air defenses of our adversaries," Spencer and Barrett wrote. "Without a sustained bomber stand-off capability enabled by a modern cruise missile, the bomber leg of the triad will be increasingly at risk."

The AFA officials also refuted Perry's suggestion that the plan to buy 1000 LRSOs will inspire other countries to stand down their nuclear forces.

"There are no signs the long-established military requirement for a nuclear-capable standoff cruise missile has diminished," they wrote. "Instead, maintaining a strong LRSO capability provides the most non-proliferation incentive by convincing allied countries they do not need to develop their own nuclear weapons."

Spencer and Barrett urged Congress to stay on track to fully fund LRSO.

"The LRSO-enabled bomber in the nuclear Triad provides the President with a flexible and credible demonstration of US willingness to execute military force when necessary to counter adversaries around the world who choose to threaten our security interests," they wrote. "This capability, along with a modern intercontinental ballistic missile force and submarine-launched ballistic missiles, provide the solid nuclear deterrence we have enjoyed for decades as well as critical flexibility in the current strategic environment."

Email:  lseligman@defensenews.com

Twitter: @laraseligman

More In Pentagon