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Breaking Defense

SecAf James Defends GBSD, LRSO

By on August 04, 2016 at 4:12 PM

Minuteman III launch

Minuteman III launch

WASHINGTON: One thing grew clear as Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James spoke this morning: the service has huge bills now and even bigger ones coming down the track, especially when you include nuclear modernization.

If she could, Lee told the audience at the New America think tank, she would “rewrite history” so that the F-35A, which was declared combat ready on Tuesday, had not taken so long and cost so much. But she’s “bullish” on the program now for the simple reason that the F-35 can handle the A2/AD threats posed by countries she didn’t name (Russia and China).

Then came a question about the RFPs issued Friday for the Ground-Based Strategic Deterrent (GBSD) and the Long Range Standoff (LRSO) replacement for the Air Launched Cruise Missile (ALCM). Even before the RFP was issued, the Air Force had budgeted $113.9 million in 2017, $294 million in 2018, $321.1 million in 2019, $1 billion in 2020, and $1.6 billion in 2021. GBSD, the replacement for the Minuteman III ICBMs, is likely to cost well north of $60 billion. Both programs have come under heavy — if predictable — fire from arms control advocates who decry their cost and possible introduction of strategic instability to the nuclear war calculus.


The LRSO, with a price tag of more than $20 billion, will be carried by the B-21, B-52 and B-2. The B-21 is the Air Force’s new bomber, with an estimated price tag of $100 billion or so. (The actual cost is a secret.)

Is it fair of this administration to push ahead on these programs less than four months before an election, one might wonder. Lee had a powerful answer: “We are responsible for making sure those two legs (of the nuclear triad) are credible and effective. It’s not very credible to an adversary around the world if our systems are aging out and won’t work beyond a certain date.” While there may be an election underway, the business of government must continue, she said. If the new bunch want to change things, that’ll be their right.

By the way, a key reason cited for GBSD by Gen. Robin Rand, head of Air Force Global Strike, is that same A2/AD threat the F-35A will cope with. The new system won’t be deployed til the late 2020s, but it will last a long time according to the RFP: 2075. And you can bet with the costs of the B-21, KC-46, F-35A, GBSD etc. starting to come due during the next administration, the Air Force will probably also be juggling how to pay for a growing force at the same time.

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