As part of the Air Force’s new plan, unveiled at the annual Air Force Association conference this week, to move from 312 operation squadrons to 386 squadrons by 2030, the number of bomber squadrons is also set to go from nine to 14.

One concern in the past for bombers has been affordability and it was a key theme of a discussion on future bombers at the Air Force Association’s conference. Last October, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office projected that the total cost of the procurement for 100 B-21 bombers would be $97 billion, putting the cost per plan at $970 million a plane.

In procuring future bomber squadrons, General Ray said affordability will be key.

“What I really wanna drive home is if we have a force, whatever the size, it absolutely has to be affordable,” said Air Force Global Strike Commander General Timothy Ray. “And the way we make it affordable is … that it has the rapid capability to be updated and modified.”

Ray mentioned five key areas where future bombers must be upgradeable: propulsion, communications, weapons, sensors, and defensive capabilities.

“All these things are very sensitive to changes in technology and is arguably much faster than what we can field right now in the current legacy approach,” he said, “and so when I speak to my industry partners, I’m not interested in letting the Intellectual Property sit outside the family. I’m absolutely interested in it being inside my family.”

Retired Air Force Lt. Gen. and Dean of the Mitchell Institute of Aerospace Power Studies David Deptula said that bombers need to be more evaluated on capability, rather than unit cost.

“The Air force has to rapidly realign its capabilities and capacity with the requirements driven force not one shape than unduly by arbitrary budget levels,” he said. “It’s very easy to look at individual unit but that does not equate to value.”

Deptula then referred to a case where 75 aircraft were needed to go against a target set in the country’s last major regional conflict—12 force protection aircraft, 48 fighters, and 15 tankers—for a mission one B-2 could do with ordinance left over.

“The bottom line is, the bomber cost effectiveness in the context of value was a fraction of what it cost to achieve the same effect with the 75 other aircraft,” he said.

He went onto suggest that it’s more of an issue of priority:

“It’s a matter of priorities ladies and gentlemen,” Deptula said. “Everyone in here has an opinion as to what level of the federal budget we ought to be spending on defense. But I dare say no one will argue with the preamble of the Constitution, which basically talks about that we form government to, ‘provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare.’ It doesn’t say the other way around.”

“Sobering reality folks is that the United States is confronted by dangerous future the country’s well being fundamentally depends upon making smart decisions that yield the greatest military value,” Deptula said. “Fortunately, it’s not too late for the Air Force to rise to this challenge. It’s time to grow America’s bomber force for the 21st century in this era of burgeoning increasingly complex challenges.”