RAPID CITY — Fourteen years after Ellsworth Air Force Base escaped then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld’s base closure list, the Air Force just ensured the base’s long-term future.
Wednesday, the Air Force announced that Ellsworth would receive the first operational B-21 bomber and the formal training unit.
Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri, and Dyess Air Force Base in Texas, will also receive B-21 Raiders as they become available.
“These three bomber bases are well suited for the B-21,” said Secretary of the Air Force Heather A. Wilson. “We expect the first B-21 Raider to be delivered beginning in the mid-2020s, with subsequent deliveries phased across all three bases.”
According to Northrop Grumman, the company designing the new bomber, “The B-21 Raider will be capable of penetrating the toughest defenses to deliver precision strikes anywhere in the world. We are providing America’s warfighters with an advanced aircraft offering a unique combination of range, payload, and survivability.”
South Dakota’s congressional delegation were ecstatic about the news.
“We are absolutely thrilled to hear the news from Secretary Wilson that the B-21 training squadron is coming to Ellsworth Air Force Base in Rapid City, South Dakota,” said Sen. John Thune, R-S.D. “This is a huge opportunity for the Air Force and a huge opportunity for South Dakota. We’ve known for some time what a wonderful asset Ellsworth Air Force Base is. We’ve worked to expand the availability of training range there, and it’s now become indispensable to the Air Force. We are looking forward to the mission – to hosting the B-21s. We will continue to work hard to ensure that Ellsworth Air Force Base is an important asset to our national security mission and serves our military as it always has with a great distinction. So, welcome to South Dakota!”
“(Wednesday’s) announcement that Ellsworth Air Force Base will be home to the B-21 Formal Training Unit and be the first base to receive an operational squadron of B-21 Raider bombers is great news for South Dakota and for our national defense,” said Sen. Mike Rounds, R-S.D. “It reaffirms the vital role Ellsworth will play in our defense strategy for years to come. As a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, I will continue working closely with the Air Force and the Ellsworth community to assure a seamless process.”
“This is a big day for South Dakota,” said Rep. Dusty Johnson, R-S.D. “The B-21 will be the most advanced bomber in the history of the world, and Ellsworth will be its first home. This mission will bring hundreds of new jobs to South Dakota. More importantly, it will maintain our state’s place at the forefront of keeping our nation safe. Time and time again, Ellsworth has proven itself, and the B-21 is further evidence of that.”
According to a prepared statement by the Air Force, Ellsworth was selected as the first base to receive the bombers because it provides sufficient space and existing facilities necessary to accommodate simultaneous missions at the lowest cost and with minimal operational impact across all three bases. The Air Force will incrementally retire existing B-1 Lancers and B-2 Spirits when a sufficient number of B-21s are delivered.
B-1s are currently stationed at Ellsworth, one of two bases that house the bomber.
“We are procuring the B-21 Raider as a long-range, highly-survivable aircraft capable of penetrating enemy airspace with a mix of weapons,” said Gen. David L. Goldfein, Air Force chief of staff. “It is a central part of a penetrating joint team.”
Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana, and Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota, will continue to host the B-52 Stratofortress, which is expected to continue conducting operations through 2050.
The news is a breath of fresh air after dodging the final base closure list.
On May 13, 2005, Rumsfeld delivered his base closure list to Congress.
The Base Realignment and Closure Commission ultimately decided to leave Ellsworth an operational base, and in 2015, the Air Force quadrupled the size of the Powder River Training Complex to include parts of the Dakotas, Wyoming, and Montana. The training complex is the largest training facility in the continental United States. Before the expansion, only one bomber could train at a time. Now, with the massive training grounds, Ellsworth bombers don’t have to fly to other parts of the country for training.
Ellsworth Air Force Base first began operating in World War II as a training field for the Army. The base employs approximately 3,100 airmen and 550 civilian employees.
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