U.S. Air Force Secretary Michael Donley made the case September 13 for the service to buy its first new bomber in decades, calling a next-generation long-range strike jet a "critical national capability."
The secretary went on to say that any new bomber will be developed, at first, with a focus on the conventional long-range strike mission - where it is most likely to be needed - and will rely on existing technologies in order to help keep costs down.
He went on to hint that the airplane will likely be purchased in greater numbers that the roughly 20 B-2 stealth bombers bought in the 1990s and that the new jets will serve for 30 years or more.
Earlier this month, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz said the service hopes to finalize what it wants to see in the new stealth plane in time for the 2012 budget submission. Schwartz said that it will likely be "optionally manned," and will likely be focused first on conventional strike with the option to be certified later for nuclear missions.