Air Force Reveals First Operational Base for Futuristic B-21 Bomber

(U.S. Air Force graphic)
(U.S. Air Force graphic)

The Air Force has picked Ellsworth Air Force Base, South Dakota, to be its first operational B-21 Long Range Strike bomber base. It will also host the bomber's first formal training unit.

The service on Wednesday announced that Ellsworth, which currently houses B-1B Lancer bombers, was chosen as the "preferred location" for the B-21 mission. Whiteman Air Force Base, Missouri, a B-2 Spirit base, and Dyess Air Force Base, Texas, another B-1B base, "will receive B-21 Raiders as they become available."

"These three bomber bases are well suited for the B-21," Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson said in a press release. "We expect the first B-21 Raider to be delivered beginning in the mid-2020s, with subsequent deliveries phased across all three bases."

Last May, the service said it favored Ellsworth, Dyess and Whiteman for future B-21 operations because they already accommodate bomber missions.

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"Ellsworth was selected as the first location 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 release states.

The Air Force said last year it will start retiring its Spirit and Lancer bombers in the 2030s as it builds up its B-21 fleet. The B-1s will stick around until 2036 and the B-2 until at least 2032, according to the service's "Bomber Vector" strategy, unveiled last year.

"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 Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein. "It is a central part of a penetrating joint team."

Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana, and Minot Air Force, North Dakota, will continue to carry out the B-52 Stratofortress mission, keeping the heavy bomber operational through the 2050s, the Air Force said.

In December, the B-21 program cleared a developmental milestone. Officials confirmed the B-21, designated the Raider in honor of the World War II Doolittle Raiders, completed its critical design review. Weeks prior, the service announced it had selected Edwards Air Force Base, California, and Tinker Air Force Base, Oklahoma, to be the lead facilities for test and evaluation and maintenance and sustainment, respectively, for the program.

Ellsworth was home to the three units that conducted the raid on Japan during World War II. The 34th and 37th Bomb Squadrons and 432nd Attack Squadron all participated in the famed Doolittle Raid, named for Lt. Col. James Doolittle, who led 16 B-25 bombers and 80 crew members from an aircraft carrier in the western Pacific on a strike to target factory areas and military installations in and around Tokyo on April 18, 1942. The mission helped boost morale after the attack on Pearl Harbor.

"The Air Force will make its final B-21 basing decision following compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act and other regulatory and planning processes," officials said Wednesday. "That decision is expected in 2021 and is part of the overall Air Force Strategic basing process."

-- Oriana Pawlyk can be reached at oriana.pawlyk@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @Oriana0214.

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