While it won’t be for a few more years, residents of the Mount Rushmore State will likely get to see the Northrop Grumman B-21 Raider overhead. The United States Air Force announced this month that Ellsworth Air Force Base (AFB), South Dakota, will be home to the next-generation nuclear bomber.
The Air Force will likely acquire more than 100 of the stealth bombers, which are capable of launching nuclear strikes around the world. The B-21 Raider, which is currently in the prototype testing stage, will likely replace many of the aging bombers in the U.S. Air Force such as the B-52 Stratofortress, B-1B Lancer, and B-2 Spirit.
South Dakota’s two Senators, John Thune and Mike Rounds, both Republicans, were informed by the Air Force on Wednesday that the service had officially designated Ellsworth as the bomber’s main operating base. The news wasn’t entirely unexpected, however. In March, the Air Force had announced that Ellsworth was selected as the preferred location for the first operational B-21 Raider as well as the formal training unit.
Whiteman AFB, Missouri, and Dyess AFB, Texas, will also receive B-21 Raiders as the aircraft become available. The Air Force had previously said that it used a deliberate process to minimize mission impact during the transition, maximize facility reuse, minimize cost and reduce overhead.
“These three bomber bases are well suited for the B-21,” Secretary of the Air Force Heather A. Wilson said in March. “We expect the first B-21 Raider to be delivered beginning in the mid-2020s, with subsequent deliveries phased across all three bases.”
“It’s a once in a generation, historic opportunity for South Dakota,” Thune told the Associated Press, adding that it will ensure Ellsworth remains a vital part of the nation’s military.
Sen. Thune had said the bomber could also represent an economic boom for the western part of his state, as the bomber will likely result in a doubling of the size of the base’s personnel and could bring in 3,000 more service members. Construction projects for the bomber hangers and other facilities are also expected. The base, which is located near Rapid City, is already one of the largest employers in the state and according to a 2017 estimate it had an annual economic impact of over $350 million.
The base had faced the possibility of closure in 2005, and it was even briefly on the Pentagon’s list of military bases that should be closed or relocated.
Ellsworth AFB currently is home to two B-1 bomber squadrons. The Air Force will incrementally retire existing B-1 Lancers as well as B-2 Spirits when a sufficient number of B-21s are delivered. According to the Air Force, Barksdale AFB, Louisiana, and Minot AFB, North Dakota, will continue to host the B-52 Stratofortress which is expected to continue conducting operations through 2050.
Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers and websites. He regularly writes about military small arms, and is the author of several books on military headgear including A Gallery of Military Headdress, which is available on Amazon.com.