Looking forward: The B-21 was unveiled, what happens now?

RAPID CITY, S.D. – The B-21 “Raider” stealth bomber was revealed in Palmdale, California on Friday, and regional leaders, including Mayor Steve Allender of Rapid City and Senator Mike Rounds of South Dakota, discussed the implications of the project for the Black Hills area and the nation. Here’s what to expect as the B-21 project continues:

Locally

The B-21 project has already had a significant economic impact in the area around Ellsworth Airforce Base, where as many as three B-21 bomber squadrons will be housed, including both the first operational squadron and the training squadron, and this will continue as it moves forward.

Nowhere is this more significant than Box Elder, which relies heavily on the base and the money that it brings.

“We’re growing about 12% per year, and that’s a big deal” said Larry Larson, Mayor of Box Elder. “It’s a couple hundred personnel with families per year until 2041, but we’re still trying to get ready of course. Even without the B-21 being there we still have the military base with lots of families being there and of course we want their quality of life to be a little better, we want them to be proud to be in Box Elder and in the Rapid City area.”

The growth in the base has been accompanied by new amenities for the city, including the recently-opened  Liberty fitness center and a currently-unfinished children’s museum.

But to sustain this growth, Box Elder will need water. The city has a history of water issues related to aging infrastructure which it is taking steps to address, but the rapid growth that the city is experiencing means that they will also need to find new water sources for the future.

“A good example of one of the things that we’re doing that’s proactive is, we have nine new housing areas being built. While we might now have enough water, we’re working with Rapid City to come up with a way, because they have a lot of water and can afford to . . . let us buy some water from them at a reasonable rate,” Larson said.

The impact of the growth at the Airforce Base won’t be limited to just Box Elder.

“With the additional personnel, all the additional housing, all of the commerce that’s related to that, there’s a significant economic impact to Rapid City and the Black Hills area from Ellsworth Airforce Base.” said Rapid City Mayor Steve Allender. “There’s a big economic benefit for everyone, and that’s a nice bonus effect, but that’s not what we’re mostly happy about. We’re happy to be here supporting Ellsworth Airforce Base so they can play their part in the global security plan to keep our nation safe.”

Beyond

As the only sixth-generation strategic bomber, the B-21 is expected to play a core role in this global security plan. Strategic bombers make up one third of what is known as the United States’ ‘nuclear triad,’ a three-pronged defense system in which a country maintains the ability to launch nuclear weapons via submarines, long-range missiles, and bomber aircraft.

“The desire of the U.S. military and of the U.S. Air Force, and of this bomber, is to, through strength, avoid war. In other words, making the decision calculus of the adversary high enough that they don’t want to risk picking battles with the United States,” said Colonel Joseph Sheffield. “So with this new bomber and its ability to strike any target around the world, and its ability with its range and its flexibility and its weapons load, it provides strategic deterrence for ourselves and our allies.”

The Air Force currently has around 140 bombers, including the B-52 which was originally rolled out in the 1950s. 100 B-21s are expected to be built in the coming years, nearly doubling the size of the United States’ bomber fleet.

But beyond the quantity is the quality. The B-52 has capabilities never-before built into a stealth bomber, including the ability for it to be piloted remotely like a drone as well as monitor and transmit battlefield information.

“It has the ability to communicate with other forces, but it’s more than that,” Rounds said. “It senses things, it can be a monitor of what the bad guys are doing, and when it can monitor that it can share it with allied forces.”

The first flight of the B-21 is not expected until some time in 2023, but the plane is expected to remain in service for decades, being updated with newer equipment and software as they are designed.

“The B-1 is carrying weapon systems today that were not in existence when the B-1 was built. Now the same thing is going to occur with the B-21, and the weapon systems of choice in 10 or even 5 years have not even been invented yet,” Rounds said.