Letter to Susan Rice Opposing Long-Range Stand-Off Weapons

Executive Director Angela Canterbury and Senior Fellows John Isaacs and Lt. General Robert Gard signed onto a letter urging the National Security Advisor to recommend canceling the Long-Range Stand-Off weapon program..

January 26, 2015

The Honorable Susan Rice

National Security Advisor
The White House
Washington DC 20500

Dear Ambassador Rice,

We write to express our strong opposition to the proposed new nuclear-armed air-launched cruise missile, the Long-Range Stand-Off (LRSO) weapon. This unneeded and expensive new weapon is designed to enhance U.S. nuclear war-fighting capabilities, which is provocative and dangerous. As part of the FY 2016 budget request, we ask that you recommend to the President the cancellation of this weapon program.

As the Obama administration’s 2010 Nuclear Posture Review concluded, the fundamental role of U.S. nuclear weapons is to deter a nuclear attack on the United States and its allies. Our submarine- and land-based missile forces and bombers armed with gravity bombs are more than adequate to meet this requirement.

Moreover, the proposed LRSO weapon will be far more capable than the existing Air- Launched Cruise Missile, the weapon it would replace. It will fly faster, have a longer range and increased accuracy, and be designed for stealth. Those are all attributes intended to increase war-fighting capability, but are unneeded for deterrence.

Proponents of the LRSO weapon within the administration argue that this enhanced warfighting capability is key. On June 24, 2014, Frank Kendall, as chair of the Nuclear Weapons Council, sent a letter to Senator Barbara Mikulski, as chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, extolling the “flexibility” the new cruise missile would provide, including the ability to “signal intent” and “control escalation.”

It is dangerous to have a nuclear weapon that anyone thinks will allow the United States to “control escalation.”

In fact, as British officials have noted, nuclear-armed cruise missiles entail a significant risk of miscalculation and unintended escalation. Philip Hammond, then the U.K. Secretary of State for Defense, wrote in a February 2, 2013 op-ed in The Telegraph, “At the point of firing, other states could have no way of knowing whether we had launched a conventional cruise missile or one with a nuclear warhead. Such uncertainty could risk triggering a nuclear war at a time of tension.”

Moreover, speaking in Prague in 2009, President Obama committed to reducing the role of U.S. nuclear weapons. The 2010 Nuclear Posture Review repeated that pledge, and stated that the United States “will not support new military missions or provide for new military capabilities.” A new, more capable nuclear-armed cruise missile violates the spirit and the letter of those pledges.

Given the significant fiscal constraints facing the administration, costs must also be considered. The estimated budget for the LRSO program is $30 billion, which includes $20 billion for the missile and $8 to $12 billion (in then-year dollars) for a life extension program for its nuclear warhead. However, these are initial estimates and the final costs are likely to be higher.

More importantly, the LRSO weapon is just one element of the Air Force’s plan for the air-based leg of the triad. In addition to the new nuclear-armed cruise missile, the plan includes the B61-12 gravity bomb and the Long-Range Strike Bomber, the new penetrating bomber. If this role is needed at all, the mission overlap between a penetrating bomber armed with gravity bombs and a new stand-off cruise missile is obvious.

Supporters of the LRSO weapon cite anticipated improvements in the air defenses of potential adversaries as a reason to develop the new cruise missile. This again is only relevant for nuclear war-fighting, not deterrence. Moreover, the United States already has nuclear systems that can penetrate advanced air defenses.

Finally, by canceling the LRSO weapon program, the United States would reduce the incentive for other states to develop and deploy nuclear-armed cruise missiles and lay the groundwork for future limits on this destabilizing class of weapons.

As long as nuclear weapons exist, the United States needs to maintain an effective nuclear deterrent. However, a new nuclear-armed cruise missile with enhanced capabilities is not required for that mission. Instead, it will undermine meaningful pledges made by President Obama to reduce the role of nuclear weapons, send the rest of the world the counterproductive message that the United States seeks not just to maintain but to improve its nuclear arsenal, and add nothing to the U.S. nuclear deterrent.

We ask that you recommend to the President the cancellation of this weapon program.


Angela Cantebury, Executive Director
Center for Arms Control and Nonproliferation/Council for a Livable World

Philip E. Coyle, III
Former Associate Director for National Security and International Affairs (NSIA), White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, 2010-2011

David Culp, Legislative Representative, Nuclear Disarmament
Friends Committee on National Legislation (Quakers)

Lt. General Robert Gard (USA, Ret.)
Former President, National Defense University

Lisbeth Gronlund, Co-Director and Senior Scientist
Global Security Program, Union of Concerned Scientists

John Isaacs, Senior Fellow
Council for a Livable World

Lt. General Arlen Jameson (USAF, Ret.)
Former Deputy Commander, STRATCOM

Daryl G. Kimball, Executive Director
Arms Control Association

Hans Kristensen, Director, Nuclear Program
Federation of American Scientists

Matthew McKinzie, Nuclear Program Director
Natural Resources Defense Council

Kevin Martin, Executive Director
Peace Action

Susan Shaer, Executive Director
Women’s Action for New Directions

Frank N. von Hippel
Senior Research Physicist and Professor of Public and International Affairs, Princeton University

Replies to: Lisbeth Gronlund, UCS, Two Brattle Square, Cambridge, MA 02138-3780
Work phone: 617-301-8063

cc: The Honorable Chuck Hagel, Secretary of Defense
The Honorable John Kerry, Secretary of State
The Honorable Ashton Carter, Secretary of Defense designate