Warplanes: July 15, 2000

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British Starstreak laser-guided weapon.--Stephen V Cole

Recent conflicts in Iraq and the Balkans have reduced the US stockpile of conventional air-launched cruise missiles to under 60, about the number used in each wave of attacks. To cover the gap, the Air Force is converting 322 nuclear cruise missiles to conventional weapons, but this will reduce the nuclear stockpile to the bare minimum. The Air Force has considered buying a new missile, but has decided to delay this weapon (and its new capabilities) until 2010. In the meantime, it plans to build a new series of 618 conventional air-launched cruise missiles that will have more range than the existing CALCM (1000 miles vs 650), but no other new capabilities. This interim weapon will be known as the Extended Range Cruise Missile (ERCM). With its 1,000-mile range, almost every target would be within range of a B-52 flying over international waters. Greater survivability and in-flight re-targeting will have to wait for the new Long Range Cruise Missile in 2010. The Air Force is confident that no enemy could shoot down very many ALCMs or ERCMs before that date. The warhead will be in the 3000-pound class and will be optimized to causing extensive damage over a wide area. The LRCM might be small enough that fighters, rather than bombers, could carry it. It is doubtful, however, if this missile could be small enough to fit inside a Joint Strike Fighter or F-22 Raptor, as the warheads cannot be reduced in size

 


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