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Common Strategic Rotary Launcher (CSRL)

An Air Force study completed in August 1981 indicated that adopting a common multipurpose launcher approach could reduce the need for several unique launchers fitted to each aircraft and carrying only one or two types of weapons. In concept, the launcher would be common among strategic bombers and be capable of carrying mixed loads of existing and projected nuclear weapons. That study, although it did not include a detailed analysis of costs and benefits, concluded that a common multipurpose launcher should result in lower overall life-cycle costs than several unique launchers with individual capabilities to carry fewer types of weapons.

Based on those expectations, the Air Force established the CSRL program in October 1981 to develop a common multipurpose launcher for the B-52H, B-lB, and ATB capable of carrying mixed loads of current and projected nuclear gravity weapons, Short-Range Attack Missiles (SRAMs), and ALCM.

Conceptually, the CSRL offered several advantages over unique launchers. Advantages include some undefined degree of improved mission planning flexibility because of the CSRL's ability to carry most nuclear weapons on a single launcher, plus a rapid reloading capability at recovery bases without a time consuming launcher exchange. On the other hand, the CSRL selected by the Air Force carried fewer weapons than unique launchers for most missions and limits growth capacity if future weapons are longer than can be accommodated by a 265-inch CSRL. Improved mission planning and targeting flexibility may not be fully realized with the CSRL. For three categories of missions (penetration, shoot and penetrate, and standoff) unique launchers may be better matched to mission needs.

For example:

  • For penetration missions, unique launchers, and racks can carry more gravity bombs and SRAMs than the CSRL on both the B-52H and the B-1B.
  • For the shoot and penetrate mission in which mixed loads of ALCM and penetration weapons are involved, both aircraft can carry as many ALCMs externally and more penetration weapons internally using unique launchers and racks.
  • For the standoff cruise missile carrier mission, only an ALCM launcher is needed. Weapon mix is not an issue.

The clearest advantage achieved by the CSRL's multipurpose carriage capability is that bombers could be more readily reloaded at dispersal bases following recovery from an initial strike. Since a CSRL can carry most existing nuclear weapons, reloading can be accomplished rapidly without a launcher change and with a minimum of support equipment. This advantage, however, largely applied to B-52H bombers to be rearmed with gravity bombs.

The Air Force considered two alternative designs for the CSRL and completed a comparative cost analysis in April 1982. In July 1982, three contracts were awarded for CSRL design studies leading to initial full-scale development in September 1982. To permit initiation of CSRL full-scale development and production, the fiscal year 1983 budget request includes $64.1 million for development and $22.4 million for production.

The Air Force cost study completed in April 1982 indicated that unique launchers designed for each aircraft with fewer weapon carriage options would likely have lower acquisition and life-cycle costs than proposed CSRL models. The Office of the Secretary of Defense and certain Air Force officials recently challenged the results of that study when we discussed it with them. The Deputy Under Secretary of Defense (Strategic and Theater Nuclear Forces) directed that another study be completed by the Air Force in January 1983.

The 265-inch CSRL was selected because the Air Force cost analysis was inaccurate and that CSRL operational advantages would offset higher costs of the CSRL program. The Air Force cost analysis understated the cost of unique launchers and overstated the cost of CSRL launchers because of inaccurate assumptions about launcher quantities and use of cost data which may be invalid.

When deciding to adopt the CSRL concept, the Air Force reaffirmed the need to have B-52Hs capable of carrying ALCM internally by October 1986. The Air Force initially planned to accomplish this by using a production version of the B-52 ALCM/SRAM launchers tested in 1980; however, development and production plans for that launcher were terminated when a decision was made to develop and produce a CSRL. Accordingly, the Air Force plans to develop, test, and produce the more complex CSRL and accomplish all integration efforts for the B-52H as well as the B-1B and ATB in less time than was originally planned for only the production of B-528 unique ALCM launcher. The resulting CSRL program schedule was highly concurrent calling for simultaneous development and production.

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