From the Document: "The Air Force's long-range bombers were designed during the Cold War to deliver nuclear strikes against the Soviet Union. Although they can be vulnerable to enemy defenses if detected, they combine the ability to fly extended distances, much farther than most other combat aircraft, with the ability to carry weapons payloads many times larger than that of fighters. Over the past decade, the Air Force has taken advantage of these characteristics by migrating its bomber fleet from a nuclear to a conventional role. Today, the Air Force maintains three bombers: the B-1B, the B-2, and the B-52, and each has been outfitted with a variety of precision and 'dumb' weapons for conventional strikes. In recent conflicts in Afghanistan (2001) and Iraq (2003), bombers have played prominent roles. […] Decisions in Congress and the Department of Defense regarding bombers may have important long-term implications. Each of the three bombers is in need of expensive upgrades, and decisions about the funding of these upgrades may affect the continued utility of these aircraft. Second, a debate has arisen over whether to expand or contract the bomber fleet. Third, military observers and policymakers disagree about when to begin a next-generation bomber program; some push to begin a new program immediately, while others advocate waiting a decade or more before initiating development of a new bomber. This report discusses the background, status, and current issues surrounding the Air Force's long-range bomber fleet. Before addressing each of the three bombers individually, this report analyzes issues affecting the entire fleet."
CRS Report for Congress, RL31544