Ellsworth Air Force Base plays a critically important role in the defense of our nation. Ellsworth is home to roughly half of our nation's B-1 bombers, which account for a significant portion of our conventional long-range strike capability. The B-1 is a key weapon in current conflicts, with its crews flying close-air support missions on a daily basis for our troops in contact with the enemy on the ground in Afghanistan. Additionally, on March 27, 2011, the B-1 played a key role in Operation Odyssey Dawn, launching from Ellsworth, dropping munitions in Libya, and returning home. This mission marked the first time the B-1 fleet launched combat sorties from the continental U.S. to strike targets overseas, and exemplifies the B-1’s crucial flexibility and capability to project conventional airpower on short notice anywhere in the world. I was proud to play a central role in saving Ellsworth in 2005 when the Pentagon recommended to the Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) Commission that it be closed. Ellsworth directly employs many South Dakotans and sustains numerous other businesses in the Black Hills region that provide critical services to the base.
In 2006, I helped secure a new mission for Ellsworth by bringing in the Air Force Financial Services Center, which has brought hundreds of jobs to South Dakota. In 2010, the Air Force announced that a new remotely piloted aircraft (RPA) mission had been assigned to Ellsworth, which became operational in 2012. While the actual MQ-9 Reaper remotely piloted aircraft are located in hotspots around the globe, Ellsworth is the now home to ground control stations that operate the aircraft. When this mission is fully operational, there will be nearly 300 new jobs to the base. Throughout this time, I have worked with the Air Force on its planned expansion of the Powder River Training Complex, which will help to attract new missions, allow the Air Force to save on its extremely high fuel costs, and further solidify Ellsworth's reputation as an outstanding military installation.
Additionally, I strongly support development of a new bomber aircraft, which could eventually replace or supplement our aging bomber fleet. The Air Force has previously indicated that Ellsworth might be a potential candidate for bed-down of a new bomber. Unfortunately, in April of 2009, the Obama Administration sought to terminate the existing Next Generation Bomber program even though nearly half of our bomber inventory pre-dates the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962. I opposed this effort, because while our current wars are being fought in undefended airspace, the conflicts of the near-term future will likely feature heavily defended airspace, due in large part to the proliferation of relatively inexpensive, but extremely sophisticated and deadly air defense systems. With only 16 combat ready B-2 bombers currently available to penetrate these sophisticated defense systems, it is clear that a new bomber must be developed to ensure that there are enough radar evading bombers available to deter, or, if necessary, engage in future conflicts. Thankfully, on January 6, 2011, the Pentagon announced that the Air Force would invest in a new long-range, nuclear-capable penetrating bomber that would have the option of being remotely piloted. I will work to ensure that this aircraft is ready before the current fleet of bombers goes out of service. I am dedicated to ensuring the vitality and continued growth of Ellsworth as one of the nation's premier Air Force bases. Ellsworth is both good for South Dakota and good for our nation's security.