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Gates: Keep Next Bomber Real: Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Wednesday he is committed to seeing that the US military has "an airborne, long-range strike capability," a prospective B-3 bomber, if you will. Speaking at AFA's Air & Space Conference, Gates said, however, the Pentagon must not repeat the mistakes of the B-2 bomber program in acquiring this new capability, be it a manned aircraft, unmanned platform, or some combination of both. The B-2, Gates said, "despite its great capability, turned out to be so expensive" that the nation could only afford a fraction of the original number. The small fleet size—today there are 20 B-2s—makes the loss of even one B-2 potentially "a national disaster akin to the sinking of a capital ship" since it would lessen the nation's strategic options, he said. "It makes little sense to procure a future bomber ... in a way that repeats this history," he emphasized. Instead it's imperative to pursue a capability that "can realistically be produced and deployed in the numbers originally envisioned," thus placing a premium on meeting schedules, controlling costs, and bringing requirements "into line with reality," Gates said.