The Pentagon plans to buy up to 1,000 new long-range nuclear missiles as concerns grow about China’s growing arsenal of doomsday weapons.
It comes as Joe Biden is set to meet Chinese President Xi Jinping in person in San Francisco next week for the first time in a year at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit.
The new missiles will be carried by B-52 bombers and eventually by the new futuristic B-21 Raider stealth bomber, which made its first test flight in California on Friday.
China has recently significantly increased its production of nuclear warheads.
The Pentagon plans to buy up to 1,000 new long-range nuclear missiles as concerns grow about China’s growing arsenal of doomsday weapons
This week, senior diplomats from the US and China met in Washington for their first talks on nuclear arms control since the Obama administration.
It was a “frank” meeting and US officials said they emphasized the “importance of greater PRC (Chinese) nuclear transparency” to “prevent an unrestricted arms race.”
The new US AGM-181 Long Range Stand-Off (LRSO) nuclear-tipped cruise missiles will replace the existing AGM-86B Air-Launched Cruise Missile (ALCMs).
In its 2024 budget, the Air Force has set aside $978 million for this purpose, and the first of these will be operational by the end of the decade.
The final cost of the program is estimated at $16.2 billion.
They will carry nuclear warheads with a yield ten times that of the bomb dropped on Hiroshima in 1945.
Each missile will have a ‘dial-a-yield’ capability, meaning they can explode with a force equivalent to between 5 and 150 kilotons of TNT.
The bomb dropped on Hiroshima weighed about 15 kilotons, and the bomb dropped on Nagasaki three days later weighed about 20 kilotons.
The new US AGM-181 Long Range Stand-Off (LRSO) nuclear-tipped cruise missiles will replace the existing AGM-86B Air-Launched Cruise Missile (ALCMs), one of which is pictured above
The Castle Bravo nuclear test, the detonation of the most powerful thermonuclear device ever tested by the United States on March 1, 1954
Xi Jinping (L) and Joe Biden (R) meet next week for the first time in a year as tensions rise over China’s nuclear arsenal
The B-21 Raider stealth bomber during its first test flight on Friday
The B-21 will be equipped with new LRSO stealth nuclear missiles with a range of 2,400 kilometers
Once released from a B-52 or B-21, the missiles have a range of 1,500 miles and are equipped with stealth technology.
That means it can be fired from aircraft at long ranges and then evade air defenses.
Gen. Anthony Cotton, head of the U.S. Strategic Command, which oversees the U.S. nuclear arsenal, recently told the Senate Armed Services Committee that he was “fairly pleased” with progress on the new missiles, and that they were ” were fundamental’ to future deterrence.
They would be “our nation’s only air-delivered nuclear capability,” he said.
The nuclear chief added: “It will provide the president with flexible and scalable options and the ability to penetrate and survive against advanced air defenses – a key feature and important part of (our) operational plans.”
He said China’s “significant expansion of nuclear forces reflects an increasing assertiveness and ability to apply nuclear coercion.”
Hans Kristensen, director of the Nuclear Information Project at the Federation of American Scientists, said it is “important to note that while the plan is to purchase 1,000 LRSO missiles, half of those will be test launches and backup .
“The number of LRSOs with a warhead will be the same as for the current ALCM: approximately 500.”
The B-21 Raider made its first test flight Friday, bringing the futuristic fighter closer to developing the nation’s next nuclear-capable stealth bomber.
It flew in Palmdale, California, where it was tested and developed by Northrop Grumman.
The Air Force plans to build 100 of the fighters, which are expected to be produced in pilot- and pilot-less variants.
It is the first new American bomber aircraft in more than three decades and is highly classified because the Pentagon wants to prevent China from gaining access to the technology used.
On Tuesday, Deputy Foreign Minister Mallory Stewart met with the Chinese Foreign Ministry’s director general of arms control, Sun Xiaobo, in Washington.
A State Department official said: “The two sides held a frank and in-depth discussion on issues related to arms control and non-proliferation as part of ongoing efforts to maintain open lines of communication and strengthen the US-China relationship managed responsibly.
“The United States emphasized the need to promote stability, help prevent an unbridled arms race, and manage competition so that it does not lead to conflict.”
The latest development came days after the US announced plans for a new atomic bomb 24 times as powerful as the one dropped on Hiroshima.
It will also be carried by the $692 million B-21 Raider.
Last month it emerged that China plans to double its arsenal of nuclear warheads to more than 1,000 by 2030.
US officials said Beijing had already produced more nuclear warheads than expected.