But then came the mission against the Taliban and Al Qaeda, and Air Force leaders realized how sorely the service had been neglecting its bomber fleet. Whereas in the Gulf War, the United States could launch its planes from the territory of a nearby ally, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan was a long way from any country that felt like playing host to U.S. combat aircraft. B-52 and B-1 bombers cruised to Afghanistan from British-owned Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean, but it took them so long that they could fly fewer missions than desirable. And as tensions continue to rise in the Middle East, nations that are capable of providing the United States with bases within range of likely war zones are coming under increasing pressure, both from terrorists and from their discontented populaces, not to do so. Meanwhile, U.S. bombers are aging: The newest B-52 is 40 years old, and the B-1 is a complex, maintenance-heavy plane designed in the early 1970s. Many military experts believe it's time to revitalize the worn-out bomber fleet.