The changing nature of warfare, however, also counts against the heavy bombers. Projecting U.S. air power today relies primarily on cruise missiles and precision-guided bombs and rockets carried aboard F-14s, F-16s and other smaller planes. "Big bombers have become a dubious way of delivering bombs when you can do the same thing more accurately with missiles fired from outside of the enemy's range," says Thompson. "The B-2 is probably the last bomber that the U.S. buys -- in fact, probably the last bomber that any nation buys."
The American bomber is an endangered species. The Pentagon on Friday announced that the current U.S. fleet of B-1, B-2 and B-52 planes will be maintained for the next 40 years, but there are no plans to build more, or newer bombers. "The U.S. simply can't afford planes like this any longer," says TIME Pentagon correspondent Mark Thompson. "B-1s cost $280 million apiece and B-2s cost $2.4 billion -- that factor alone is going to make bombers a weapon of the past."