On Cruise Missiles and White Elephants

May 9, 2016

A new nuclear cruise missile will weaken deterrence.

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As Russia continues to destabilize Ukraine and augment its military presence along NATO’s eastern border, the conversation in the West about how to deter Russia from a potential attack against NATO has grown increasingly earnest. Understandably, much of the focus has revolved around the nuclear dimension. In fact, senior Defense Department officials have in recent months begun to tout the nascent effort to modernize America’s aging nuclear forces as part of the U.S. response to Russia’s assertive actions.

Against this backdrop, the greatest amount of debate has focused on the Air Force’s proposed Long Range Stand-Off Missile (LRSO), a new nuclear air-launched cruise missile (ALCM) designed to replace the current AGM-86B ALCM, which is nearing the end of its service life. The LRSO, to quote the Department of Defense, is designed to be capable of “penetrating and surviving advanced Integrated Air Defense Systems (IADS) from significant standoff range.”.

Though Russia and China both have invested heavily on robust air defense systems, both have very different nuclear postures. Unlike Russia, China does not field a nuclear force that is designed for nuclear warfighting. Instead, it maintains a nuclear force focused on assured second strike, and one that up to this point has never gone on alert. (For more, I recommend Jeffrey Lewis’ The Minimum Means of Reprisal or his most recent book, Paper Tigers.)

Russia, on the other hand, has thought extensively about the use of nuclear weapons, and abandoned their “no first-use” nuclear policy decades ago. It is this fact, combined with their nuclear arsenal, that has led to discussions of the LRSO to largely focus on Russia and not China.

What is lost in this discussion, are two key questions: First, does replacing the AGM-86B with a new nuclear-armed ALCM actually stand to alter the deterrent balance between the United States and Russia to any significant degree? Second, though the LRSO is intended for use globally, if we’re prioritizing the deterrence of Russian aggression, are there better ways to spend money than on the LRSO?

The LRSO and the U.S.-Russian Nuclear Balance

Broadly speaking, nuclear-armed ALCMs, which were first fielded in the early 1980s, have had three major justifications.  First and foremost, these weapons were designed to better enable penetration of Russian airspace at a time when the United States did not have stealthy bombers or conventional ALCMs. Rather than an aircraft having to pass near or over a target to drop a nuclear weapon, a nuclear ALCM could both destroy key air defense sites and strike vital strategic targets on the Russian periphery.

Second, the combination of high accuracy and lower-yield made nuclear ALCMs useful in performing counterforce missions (attacking Russian nuclear and conventional forces) against both Russian nuclear delivery systems and massed Russian ground formations while minimizing civilian casualties. Third and finally, these weapons also complicated the mission of Russian air defenders.  It is one thing to defend against bombers carrying nuclear warheads, and quite another to have to defend against both bombers and large numbers of cruise missiles, especially if those cruise missiles are potentially targeting air defense systems.

While these rationales may have been compelling in the 1980s, they no longer justify purchasing a new ALCM.

First, if the intent behind the LRSO is to enable the United States to penetrate a near-peers’ airspace, the Department of Defense already maintains two long-range precision cruise missiles: the Navy’s Tomahawk Block IV, and the Air Force’s JASSM-ER. During the Cold War, nuclear ALCMs were seen as the most ideal tools to destroy enemy air defense systems and allow bombers to deliver nuclear weapons to follow-on targets. Given the comparatively limited accuracy of these ALCMs, it was difficult to ensure that a given target would be destroyed by a given strike. Arming these missiles with nuclear warheads ensured that even a near miss would still succeed in neutralizing or destroying their target.

Today, however, conventional land attack cruise missiles possess far greater accuracy, ensuring they can destroy their targets without needing the excessive explosive power of a nuclear warhead.  These missiles can be used to either suppress or destroy enemy air defenses, allowing other strike assets to more easily penetrate enemy airspace and deliver conventional or nuclear weapons to their targets.  In short, a nuclear warhead is no longer needed to ensure a given air defense site is destroyed. Even better, because these systems do not carry a nuclear warhead, they are far more affordable.

Further, these conventional ALCMs are designed to keep apace of anti-access/area-denial systems. The JASSM-ER combines stealth with 1000 kilometer range, allowing it to outrange most surface-to-air missile systems currently in use. The Tomahawk Block IV combines a 1,700 kilometer range with an ability to have its target adjusted mid-flight.  These improvements allow these systems to successfully engage and destroy mobile surface-to-air missile systems into the future. Even if future air defense systems are able to engage and destroy these cruise missiles, the LRSO would be equally vulnerable, thus adding little in added benefit.

Second, a nuclear-armed LRSO is also not necessarily useful in a counterforce role. Russian land-based forces, at least those in fixed locations, can just as readily be targeted by conventional precision munitions, and again at a far lower cost.  Indeed, this appears to worry Russia far more than the United States. The Russian military fears that these conventional munitions could degrade their nuclear forces to such an extent that it precludes a credible second-strike capability.  Even so, however, Russia maintains much of its nuclear force in a road-mobile configuration, and road-mobile missiles are exceedingly difficult to locate in the first place.

Third, and finally, if the intent is to stress Russian air defenses, the LRSO is not the ideal choice. Even leaving aside the cost to refurbish the W80 nuclear warhead for the LRSO (the cost of which cannot be separated from any discussion of the LRSO), the entire LRSO project aims to procure between 1,000 and 1,100 LRSOs for a total of $9 billion, giving the weapon a probable price-tag of $9 million-per-unit.  A JASSM and Tomahawk costs $1.3 and $1.6 million dollars respectively.  For every LRSO, the Department of Defense could buy approximately five Tomahawks or seven JASSM-ERs, which would easily allow strike packages to overwhelm the air defenses surrounding their targets.

Even assuming we employ conventional munitions to suppress enemy air defenses and use the LRSO to strike other high-value targets, the LRSO does not further strengthen nuclear deterrence. Under New START, the United States will deploy a maximum of 60 nuclear bombers. Assuming these bombers are able to carry a minimum 10 ALCMs, this would mean the United States would have an additional 600 nuclear warheads that can be launched against enemy targets.  However, if the 2,000 warheads deployed on Minuteman III and Trident I missiles aren’t enough to deter, say, a Russian nuclear attack, it is difficult to see how adding in 600 deployed on ALCMs will do any better. The “more bombs deter more” might feel like a safety blanket for a time, it does not hold up under scrutiny.

These same facts, incidentally, also apply to China.  The same tools to penetrate Russian airspace can also do the same to penetrate Chinese airspace.  Further, the United States maintains a massive nuclear advantage over China, given China likely has fewer than 200 warheads.

The LRSO as a White Elephant

If the aim is to deter Russian aggression, are there better ways to spend the money than on LRSO? To answer this, we must first examine the associated costs a little closer. The Air Force has refused to comment publicly on the tab, but the widely-cited figure for the LRSO is between $9 and $10 billion.  Additionally, the LRSO’s W80 warhead also requires refurbishment, which will cost an additional $8 billion. Given the trends in defense modernization, this number will likely climb. It certainly did the last time the Department of Defense tried to replace the AGM-86B. Indeed, a study by Rand’s Project Air Force determined that, on average, defense acquisition programs grow in cost by 46 percent.

Defenders of America’s nuclear modernization project point out these programs will take up a small chunk of the Department of Defense’s overall budget, totaling approximately 5% of total spending. Further, the spending on the LRSO and W80-4 will be spread over 15-20 years, or an average of just over $1 billion each year.

Even so, this is the wrong lens through which to view the cost – especially the opportunity cost – of America’s planned nuclear modernization project. Indeed, the Pentagon’s flirtation with special accounts to fund nuclear modernization clearly illustrates the tough budget choices ahead.

These tough choices aren’t just speculations, but implicit assumptions underlying nuclear modernization funding, be it through either National Sea-Based Deterrence Fund or the potential “broader nuclear deterrent fund.” These funds take “unobligated funds”, or funds that other programs are planning to spend but haven’t assigned to a given contract. It’s the equivalent of taking money out of one’s checking account because it’s sitting unspent, despite the fact that money is intended to cover a check that’s in the mail to the electric company. Simply put, rather than paying for them by increasing overall defense spending, the LRSO will likely be funded by taking money from other conventional programs.

Of course, many of those modernization programs are just as pressing as the LRSO. As Todd Harrison from the Center for Strategic and International Studies observes, much of defense spending during the last decade was focused on wartime procurements, not overall modernization. Spending on modernization for all systems remained relatively flat, and necessary modernizations of conventional systems were, like nuclear weapons spending, pushed into the future. And unlike the LRSO, these systems are not duplicative, but essential to conventional warfighting, and can no longer be deferred.

However, even assuming that the Department of Defense’s budget is increased to fund the LRSO without raiding unobligated funds, that is still not the best use of that money if the United States seeks to deter Russian aggression.

One is reminded of the old tale of the white elephant.  As the story goes, the King of Siam would have a subtle way of dealing with members of his court he found to be tiresome.  With great fanfare, the King would present the target with a white-colored elephant, a rare and special breed. In being presented with this “gift,” the individual would find themselves obligated to pay the not-insubstantial cost for housing and feeding a large, hungry elephant. Returning the “gift” was not an option, since doing so would cause great offense.  This would deprive the recipients of the necessary funds needed to maintain their position in court and remove them from the king’s sight without the political fallout associated with formally banishing them.

Fast forward a few hundred years and the LRSO could be a modern day white elephant. More gallingly, it’s a “gift” we’re bestowing upon ourselves. And those conventional programs it draws money from might be far more applicable to preventing a Russian attack on NATO.  Much is made of Russia’s funding of new nuclear delivery systems, to include their own nuclear ALCMs, and even new sea-launched cruise missiles SLCMs) and ground-launched cruise missiles (GLCMs). SLCMs, and GLCMs.  But assuming that Russia intends to use them the same way we do is mirror imaging.  Russia has placed great emphasis on the use of nuclear weapons early in a conflict so as to “escalate to de-escalate” and preclude an inevitable conventional defeat.  Rather than large-scale nuclear warfighting, a more realistic scenario involves Russia seizing a limited amount of terrain, and then attempting to consolidate its gains by coercing the United States and NATO through limited nuclear weapons use.

In effect, we find ourselves back in the same place we were in 1960. Throughout the 1950s, the United States had invested huge amounts of time and money building a nuclear force optimized for inflicting maximum damage to Russia at the outset of war.  This doctrine of massive retaliation, envisioned going nuclear early.  Yet, as Gen. Maxwell Taylor and many others pointed out during the Eisenhower administration, such a stance left the United States with only two options should Russia launch a conventional attack in Europe: conventional defeat or escalation to all-out nuclear war.

This is what Glenn Snyder dubbed the  stability-instability paradox.  In creating a force that emphasized strategic nuclear war fighting at the expense of conventional forces, it actually incentivized small-scale tactical aggressions on the part of the Soviet Union. Is Russia, say, seized West Berlin, it could likely do so easily by overcoming the negligible American forces available to resist. After all, if after that the United States only had nuclear forces to respond, would the United States risk countless American lives over West Berlin?

Today, we’re faced with the same security-insecurity paradox. Outside of small, underpowered forces fielded by the Baltic States themselves, NATO forces that can respond to a provocation in the Baltics are few in number and not in position to repel a Russian attack. As such, Russia could very rapidly seize the Baltic States before such forces could get into position to challenge them, and then hide behind its nuclear forces. After all, is the United States really going to risk a general nuclear war over Riga? However, if a sufficiently capable conventional force precludes initial Russian conventional success, such an attempt becomes far less attractive. Launching a conventional conflict that might spiral into a nuclear one at a limited cost to your conventional forces one thing.  It is quite another when that success is neither guaranteed nor cheap.

The Department of Defense is already attempting to compensate for this conventional imbalance. The European Reassurance Initiative (ERI), a U.S. program aimed at bolstering Europe’s conventional defenses against Russia, proposes, setting aside funding for U.S. Army prepositioned stocks in Eastern Europe as well as a permanent rotation of Armored Brigade Combat Team (ABCT). It includes prepositioning equipment for rotational units deploying to Europe as well as a division headquarters, an armored brigade combat team, a fires brigade, and a sustainment brigade. The cost cited for an ABCT rotation is approximately $391 million to marry that brigade up with prepositioned stocks. The money proposed  on the LRSO could fund the rotation of an additional ABCT at a minimum, and leave room for a possible third or (perhaps more critically) additional enablers such as fire support assets, reconnaissance platforms, or air defense systems to counter local conventional Russian fire superiority.

To be clear, three additional forward-deployed brigades and more enablers are not sufficient to win a conflict with Russia alone. But by having sufficient forces to preclude an easy initial success by the Russian military, NATO is afforded a far improved conventional deterrence by denial. Further, pre-positioned stocks also provide a valuable signaling tool to demonstrate resolve that can be used during a crisis. The more pre-positioned equipment is forward in Europe, the more units the United States can send forward to signal that the United States is prepared to honor its treaty commitments.

Many have argued that in spite of the costs and redundancy, maintaining a nuclear ALCM capability is essential as a hedge against rapid technological change such as a compromise of stealth technology.  That said, given that the LRSO’s survivability is also predicated on stealth, the missile makes for a poor hedge.  Yes, a cruise missile is a far harder target than a bomber.  But Russian air defense system designers have worked diligently to add in an anti-cruise missile capability into their air defense systems. And regardless of how effective a given hedge may be, costs cannot be taken out of the equation.

In spite of the risk of technological change, nobody has seriously suggested bringing back nuclear-armed sea-launched cruise missiles (SLCMs), despite their being equally justified as a hedging capability.  Such arguments are not made because there is a recognition that the cost of such a step would be a bridge too far given other requirements.  The LRSO is no different.  And given the fact the LRSO’s funding might very well weaken the very conventional forces that may be called upon to prevent a Russian conventional attack, we would do well to seriously consider if we’re willing to bet everything on a capability that’s simply nice, but not essential, to have compared to other assets.

The next decade is likely to see continued tensions with Russia, which demands modernization programs that can keep pace. The United States would do well to approach this problem wisely, and not invest in redundant systems of dubious utility. With this in mind, we should look very critically at the LRSO. Such a decision might decide the fate of conventional deterrence in Europe.


Luke O’Brien is an Army officer assigned to Aberdeen Proving Ground and is currently a Countering Weapons of Mass Destruction Graduate Fellow at National Defense University.  His views are his own, and do not represent those of the Department of Defense or the Army.  He can be found on Twitter as @luke_j_obrien.

Image: U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class J.T. Armstrong

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5 thoughts on “On Cruise Missiles and White Elephants

  1. A few points to consider

    Why would you assume we’re going to continue to abide by the New Start Treaty when the Russians are not?

    Have you not been following Putin’s plan for modernization? Whether they have the funding to do this or not remains to be seen, however, they plan on updating the entire ICBM force, both silo and mobile based to include MIRVs. They want to restart TU-160 “BlackJack” Bomber production, which would be armed with nuclear cruise missiles, plus they’re rebuilding their SSBN force. They’re going to take advantage of every loophole in the treaty they can.

    I wouldn’t put too much stock on limiting our nuclear bomber force to 60 and if we go to war with a near peer like Russia or China, that treaty isn’t going to be worth the paper it’s printed on.

    “However, if the 2,000 warheads deployed on Minuteman III and Trident I missiles aren’t enough to deter, say, a Russian nuclear attack, it is difficult to see how adding in 600 deployed on ALCMs will do any better. The “more bombs deter more” might feel like a safety blanket for a time, it does not hold up under scrutiny.”

    Deterrence, isn’t just about numbers if, it were, we never would have deterred any one, especially the Soviet Union as there was always a question if they had more deployed warheads they we did.

    Deterrence is about multiple delivery methods, always has been always will be and that’s why the US and Russia maintain a triad and why China and India are trying to replicate that.

    It’s why Russia favored mobile ICBMs over silo based, they needed both, but they knew they needed a layered approach to survive a first strike.

    It’s the same with Bombers, having gravity bombs vs cruise missiles. Cruise missiles provide a stand-off capability, ensuring that some of the bombers are going to be able to hit their targets

    “Further, the United States maintains a massive nuclear advantage over China, given China likely has fewer than 200 warheads”

    Do you really believe the 200 warhead number? That’s been floating around as long as we’ve been tracking the PLA’s nuclear program and even with open source reporting, it’s pretty easy to disprove. While they never put much effort into silos as they know they’re not survivable, they have invested in mobile ICBMs and in UGFs to hide those launchers. While dated by our standards they do have a bomber and they are building out an SSBN capability. They certainly have a ways to go, but who do you think they’re trying to counter? Us or their nuclear armed neighbors Russia, India and Pakistan? Do you think 200 gets that deterrence job done?

    Just a thought, but I wouldn’t use Jeffery Lewis as a source. He’s considered a hack writer by many, and he is certainly biased in his writing towards total nuclear disarmament. Anything he writes is going to be critical of nuclear programs in general let alone modernization efforts.

  2. It seems that we cannot go a month without another LRSO article, either for or against the weapon system. This time we see the latter. There is no middle ground here, but fortunately the SecDef as the Milestone Decision Authority for major defense programs gets the final vote, and he voted “aye.” O’Brien says that purchasing the LRSO will weaken conventional deterrence, but he’s wrong.

    I don’t believe that O’Brien adequately differentiates the role of conventional cruise missiles used in the 1980s and 1990s with the current role of nuclear cruise missiles planned for use in this century. I do not intend to counter each of O’Brien’s charges, but rather focus on his discussion of the Baltics scenario. Let’s get past the ridiculous concept in which US forces have to defend the Baltics starting at the Russian border. What happened to “defense in depth?” Do we need to resurrect European defense studies from decades ago?

    If the Russians want to take the Baltics, they’ll take them, with or without a set (or two) of Army heavy brigade equipment in theater. They count on taking the Baltics because they declared the threat of tactical nuclear weapons use behind any future aggression in Europe. This is strategic deterrence against US/NATO interference. And of course, ICBMs and SLBMs will not be a threat to them because a US response using nuclear ballistic missiles would not be proportional. O’Brien is right that the US is not going to start a global nuclear war over the Baltics.

    What might stop the Russians threat is having a weapon system that is proportional to the scenario. And that’s not threatening the use of conventional weapons in the face of nuclear conflict. That won’t work. If the Russians use nuclear weapons to back up a conventional attack into the Baltics, the LRSO would offer that proportional response to restore deterrence against a European invasion. The NATO nuclear arsenal is another option, if one can count on all NATO countries agreeing on that response. If the US president wants a limited nuclear response option, this is the right system.

    O’Brien has a strange understanding of defense acquisition. All of the nuclear weapons modernization options are currently competing with conventional programs in the budget. That is true. They all go through the same planning and programming cycle. Happens every budget year. But if 95% of the budget is dedicated to conventional missions, exactly what is DoD sacrificing by committing 5% to nuclear modernization? Does O’Brien seriously think that he’s the first person to propose using conventional weapons only against a nuclear-armed nation-state as an alternate course of action? It’s not as if these issues aren’t debated within the Air Force, DoD, and White House every year. And yet the LRSO funding exists.

    US defense strategy starts with the development of nuclear weapons to provide protection against the one existential threat to the United States. Conventional weapons concepts build upon that basis, and cannot replace the nuclear mission (Brad Robert’s new book has a great discussion on this). As a result, we cannot afford not to modernize nuclear weapons for future roles. It’s not an “either/or” choice, but we need LRSO to provide distinct capabilities for the 21st century.

    1. If we cannot go a single month without another LRSO article, we also can’t seem to go a month without your counter-argument. So be it. I personally think a successful discussion would be far better served by a more professional, less unctuous tone on your part, but that’s your prerogative.

      To start, the fact you’re referencing the European defense studies from decades ago says more about where the pro-LRSO camp is on nuclear thinking than anything I’ve written. The studies of a conventional defense of Europe and the thinking necessary to conceptualize a successful defense of the Baltic States are different, and should be appreciate differently. For a start, the defense studies of the 1970s and 1980s faced a NATO that was far more invigorated and capable than the current dreary funding levels we see today.
      For a start, defense in depth in a Baltic State campaign doesn’t make sense, because we’re not having to defend against a deep attack. A war against the Baltic States will not involve a massive conventional thrust by a Russian ground force that massively outnumbers the defenders, we’re facing a campaign that only needs to sever approximately 60km of terrain where it enjoys conventional superiority.

      The number of brigade sets didn’t come out of thin air. They’re based on the Rand Corporation’s studies of what’s required to achieve Baltic deterrence. They estimate the need for seven brigades on the ground in the Baltic States during crisis, to include three Armored Brigade combat teams. The European Reassurance Initiative gives us two ABCTs. My proposal would add the third. On top of these, the United States has one Stryker Brigade Combat Team and one airborne brigade combat team in EUCOM, with one airborne brigade available to deploy inside of 18 hours. That brings to total number of US brigades to six. If we’re assuming NATO is participating, they have their Very High Readiness Joint Task Force, which is another brigade sized element, with two additional brigades available soon after. You can sneer at this contribution as “ridiculous”, but it actually answers the mail on exactly what we need to deter a Russian ground attack.

      If the President wants a limited nuclear response, he has the B61. But even then, this limited response is likely a non-starter on the part of our NATO partners (and indeed, I believe, the US public), which you recognize yourself. Given that several major NATO states have publics opposed to the idea of honoring Article V (like Germany and Italy) or have only a minority in support (like the United Kingdom), I doubt we can count on getting the consensus vote needed to do that. Sure, we could unilaterally respond if we had the LRSO, but good luck continuing a conventional campaign when half our alliance partners break ranks. I’ve found not having your major APODs, SPODs, and C4I nodes not getting closed off due to a diplomatic break tends to be useful when prosecuting a ground campaign.

      Further, from a signaling standpoint, telling the Baltic States that “we’ll break through eventually” is not conducive to maintaining solid alliances, and it is certainly not conducive to creating a healthy perception of US resolve. They’re just as cognizant of the hurdles facing a nuclear response as any of us. If we want to assuage them, we need to place enough force into Europe that is capable of responding

      As for your comment on nuclear modernization, I searched in vain throughout my article for where I argued that we shouldn’t modernize our nuclear forces. Perhaps I am not looking in the right places. Of course we need to modernize our nuclear forces. But we need to do so intelligently, and with a clear concept as to what our strategic end-states are and how we intend to procure forces to get to them. And right now duplicate concepts like the LRSO are not especially helpful in that respect. And I’m baffled at your inability to conceptualize how ~5% spending has an impact, considering the fact I just wrote an entire article outlining how it could be spent better to accomplish the same goals. Indeed, assuming that cost remains at 5% (which is a dubious assumption given the almost clockwork growth in acquisition program cost over time), it ignores the fact that our actual defense spending needs are likely on par of 150+% of budget.

      As a final note: yes, the LRSO is funded. There is considerable institutional support behind it. There was also considerable support for any number of poorly-conceived systems over the past decade. Need I point out the XM2001 Crusader, XM8 Carbine, Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle, or RAH-66 Comanche? Or should I go back in time to the interwar period where the United States Army began to sluggishly introduce tanks, but also insisted that they operate next to horse cavalry? It’s not like armor theory wasn’t debated every year.

      Just because a program is funded doesn’t mean a program is a good idea, and constantly pointing to that fact constitutes an obvious argument to authority fallacy. And a tiresome one at that.

      1. Mr. O’Brien,

        I don’t think Mr. Mauroni’s argument was unprofessional–it just happened to be superior to yours in a few ways.

        He clearly identified that LRSO is frankly not that expensive and that an absence of nuclear capable cruise missiles denies the President a whole set of options. What he did not emphasize is that the absence of an air-launched cruise missile destroys the Triad concept, as it takes the bomber force out of the nuclear game almost entirely.

        Are B-52s going to resume the low-level gravity bomb mission from the 1960s? Are B-1Bs going to be brought back into the nuclear role to do the same thing, with survival rates perhaps a percentage point or two above a BUFF? Will they be equipped with brought from the dead SRAMs to help them in their cause?

        I suppose you would say that our 20 B-2s could form a rump third leg of the triad. Of course, less than half are currently operational at any time, none are only type of nuclear alert, their crews rarely train for nuclear ops, their “stealthiness” and avionics are 20+ years old, and–most importantly–they can only deliver free-fall nuclear bombs. They were designed from the get-go to incorporate the SRAM into their overall mission CONOP. But that missile was retired without replacement for the same misguided reasons you are providing 25 years later.

        In short, while I’m sure some B-2s would be able to make it to their targets in a nuclear environment (not saying they would get back home), most would not. If a 70s era Serbian SA-6 being fired blind can shoot down an 80s era “stealth” F-117, rest assured that 21st Century double-digit Russian and Chinese SAMs can down late 80s/early 90s B-2s.

        So, simple common sense dictates that for the bomber leg of the triad, stand-off is the only way to go.

        Now, of course, you may be making, silently, the argument that we should just keep the 70s-era ALCM around forever. After all, as the only major country that adheres to the non-existent nuclear test ban treaty (and our own ridiculous self-imposed restrictions), we aren’t going to be building any new warheads any time soon. Why not keep 50+ year old nuclear weapons in the inventory? I mean, sure, you would replace your (non-nuclear) car within 10 years, but what’s the harm in keeping weapons systems with radioactive components decades beyond their intended service life?

        You must have a very different definition of “nuclear modernization” that most of us to suggest you are not an opponent of such a program. The bomber is the only nuclear asset that can be turned back at any time (as great a movie as “Fail Safe” was, it wasn’t very accurate). We once had similar stand-off missiles on subs, but President Obama decided to retire those (why, I do not know–you might). We actually had 400+ far newer bomber-borne nuclear cruise missiles (the ACMs) that for a bizarre reason his Administration also decided to retire–despite the fact they were nearly a decade younger than the ALCM. Of course, in the grand scheme of things, we have today only a fraction of the nuclear weapons we had just 25 years ago. The goals of the far-left “Nuclear Freeze” Movement were met, inadvertently, under George H. W. Bush! In the 1980s, our total arsenal numbered something around 40,000 I believe. Today it is under 5,000. All of our ground-launched nukes are destroyed. All of our naval tactical weapons are destroyed. As have our Navy submarine nuclear cruise missiles.

        At the moment, we have gone full circle and reached the point where JFK lamented that his only options were surrender or the destruction of the planet. Putting aside that our ICBMs and their associated warheads are nearing 50 years old (again, something I suppose that does not bother you) and our SLBMs and associated warheads nearing 40 years old (again, same fun on your part), our “deterrent” rests upon (severely aging) weapons designed for WWIII.

        None are useful in any conflict short of that, to include a limited war with Russia. Russia, of course, has declared it will consider nuclear weapons as a first resort. No one in Moscow seriously believes that the USA is going to launch a Trident II on Moscow in response to a Russian advance on Latvia. But as long as we maintain a pathetically impotent ground and air force in Europe, Russia can overrun the Baltics, Poland, Romania, and Bulgaria in days. While horrible to contemplate, low-yield battlefield/tactical nuclear weapons would stop this or . . . ideally, deter it in the first place.

        But those weapons do not exist (let alone modern strategic weapons) because of the thinking of folks like you.