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In the Driver’s Seat: Lt. Gen. Robert Elder, commander of 8th Air Force, told defense reporters in Washington, D. C., Tuesday that the pacing item for when the Air Force’s new bomber platform needs to be in the inventory to avoid a worrisome capability gap is the remaining service life of the air-launched cruise missile, currently the nation’s sole nuclear-tipped cruise missile. “I believe that it is really tied to when the ALCM is getting ready to go out of the inventory,” he said. He added, “So, if you had this [new bomber], it would enable you to kind of change the approach that you have for some of your standoff weaponry.” ALCMs, which are carried exclusively on the B-52 bomber, are expected to serve until near the end of the next decade. If there is a major delay to the fielding of the new bomber (see above) and ALCM’s time for retirement has come, “then you are going to need some kind of way to deal with that slip,” he said. Elder envisions the new bomber as the type of capability upgrade that the F-22 brought to the fighter force. “The F-22 is a magnificent platform, so as a bomber person, it makes me drool with the thought that you could have a bomber with those kinds of characteristics,” he said. When asked, he said, range and payload will be the two most important performance characteristics of the new bomber, followed by stealth attributes and finally its speed. “The speed piece bit is not as important as the range and payload,” he said.