It’s official: B-21 Raider to land first at Ellsworth AFB

RAPID CITY, S.D. – Another big check in the box in bringing the B-21 Raider to Ellsworth Air Force Base. The Air Force announced Wednesday the Record of Decision has been signed, which formally allows planning to turn into action and seals the decision that Ellsworth will receive the first B-21 Raider.

“I am pleased that the U.S. Air Force has officially selected Ellsworth Air Force Base as the first home of the B-21 Raider bomber,” said Sen. Mike Rounds. “This landmark decision makes certain that South Dakota will continue to play a critical role in our national defense. The selection of Ellsworth is a testament to the hard work of our Air Force personnel on the ground at Ellsworth and the communities of Box Elder and Rapid City that have worked hard to improve the long-term suitability of the base for this new state-of-the-art aircraft.”

Senator John Thune calls it a, “once in a generation opportunity for South Dakota.” The announcement enables the Air Force to move ahead with planning and contracting for the construction at Ellsworth in preparation for the new bomber, which will happen alongside the current B-1B mission.

In March 2019, the Air Force first announced Ellsworth as the preferred location for the B-21 Raider. The final Environmental Impact Statement was published in March 2021, affirming the decision.

The Final EIS calls on Ellsworth to support a projected 7,700 airmen, spouses and dependents – an increase over current operations by 3,147 people.

The big boost is to the economy with a projected 582 indirect jobs and $23,878,400 in economic activity. Last week, the Department of Defense announced $95 million in contracts to West River construction companies for base development.

Challenges still ahead include continued congressional funding but Senator Thune says the bomber has already been deemed essential.

“I know the Air Force, our military more generally and I think the U.S. Congress is totally committed to making sure the United States continues to lead the way with the long-range deterrence and capabilities that come with a long-range strike capability like the B-21,” said Thune.

Both Senators, Thune and Rounds, successfully advocating for the removal of Ellsworth from the Department of Defense’s proposed closure list during a Base Realignment and Closure round in 2005.

As governor, Rounds led the state to establish the South Dakota Ellsworth Development Authority, which continues to support the base. During his tenure as Senator, Thune has advocated for the expansion of the Powder River Training Complex, quadrupling the size of the airspace and establishing it as the largest training airspace in the continental United States.

The Air Force is planning for a minimum of 100 B-21s to roll off the assembly line. In addition to being chosen as the main operating base for the B-21, Ellsworth will be home to the formal training unit and an operational squadron. Dyess AFB in Abilene, TX and Whiteman AFB in Knob Noster, MO will house other units.

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