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Bombers as Communicators: Bombers are becoming an "incredibly important" asset in the Air Force's shrinking tool box and offer an excellent way to send messages to potential adversaries, said retired Lt. Gen. Robert Elder, a former commander of USAF's nuclear-capable bomber force. Putting bombers on alert is a great way to communicate that the United States is getting serious in a diplomatic crisis, Elder told attendees of AFA's Global Warfare Symposium in Los Angeles last week. "They can also deter adversaries [and] assure allies," he said, making them an indispensible capability for the future. Moreover, bombers offer a way to get maximum value out of the counting rules for strategic nuclear weapons under the New START agreement with Russia, noted Elder. A bomber counts as "one" launcher whether it has one cruise missile or 20 on board, he said. "For comparatively little cost, you can add a lot of nuclear capability" to the inventory, he said. With long range and the ability to perform strategic as well as tactical missions, bombers are "well postured to work with other instruments of power," said Elder. He spoke on Nov. 18.