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Bomber Clues: It may be worth noting that a few years ago Air Combat Command leaders—including then-ACC chief Gen. Ron Keys—were suggesting that the 2018 next-generation bomber might serve as a basis for a replacement for the AC-130 gunship. Both a new bomber and new gunship were thought to need stealth capability and to be able to carry extremely precise weaponry, and directed energy weapons were strongly suggested as possible armament for the gunship version. In explaining his decision to table the bomber for this year at least, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said he didn’t think the Air Force had its arms around the real requirement yet. (Some defense analysts dispute that assessment.) The money, too, was a factor: top ACC officials said the bomber program had an initial funding line of about $5 billion.