Ellsworth Air Force Base

South Dakota’s Ellsworth Air Force Base (AFB) is home to the 28th Bomb Wing, operating two of our nation’s three B-1B combat squadrons. The B-1B strategic bomber has the highest payload, the fastest maximum speed, and operates at the lowest cost per flying hour of any aircraft in our bomber fleet.

In 2011, the B-1B played a key role in Operation Odyssey Dawn, launching from Ellsworth AFB, dropping munitions in Libya, and returning home in a single mission, marking the first time the B-1 fleet launched combat sorties from the continental U.S. to strike targets overseas. For conventional long-range strike capability, the B-1B bomber is the primary weapons system in the Air Force’s military arsenal, able to project power on short notice anywhere in the world.

Together with the B-1, the 432nd Attack Squadron, which operates the ground control stations based at Ellsworth AFB for the MQ-9 Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPA), plays a key role in our national defense. As the Air Force adapts to the challenges and needs of the 21st century, the ability of these two aircraft, both manned and unmanned, operating together in theater is one of the military capabilities that sets our nation apart.

Ellsworth Press Conference

In 2006, I helped secure a new mission for Ellsworth by bringing in the Air Force Financial Services Center to South Dakota. Again in 2010, I fought for the MQ-9 Reaper mission to be assigned to Ellsworth, which became operational in 2012. While the actual MQ-9 Reaper aircraft are located in hotspots around the globe, Ellsworth has become home to the ground control stations, which operate these RPAs.

These combined missions currently employee over 4,100 servicemembers at Ellsworth AFB and bring numerous civilian jobs to the Rapid City area. The community of Rapid City has always been a proud supporter of our military service men and women and in 2012, the Association of Defense Communities named the South Dakota Ellsworth Development Authority the Defense Community of the Year for its role in supporting our armed forces.

Throughout my time in the Senate, I have also worked with the Air Force on its planned expansion of the Powder River Training Complex (PRTC). This expansion, once completed, will make the PRTC the largest training airspace over the continental United States, thus enabling the Air Force to conduct large force exercises. By allowing aircraft to train closer to home, this training airspace will save the Air Force money on extremely high fuel costs and help to attract new missions to Ellsworth AFB.

In my tenure in the Senate, I have also remained a strong proponent of the next generation Long Range Strike Bomber, which will supplement and eventually replace our current bomber fleet. Although, on average, the B-1B bomber aircraft are 26 years old, in our entire bomber fleet, only the 16 combat-ready B-2 Stealth Bombers, which have an average age of 19 years, are projected to have a longer lifespan. Although these two weapons systems allow us to maintain combat effectiveness in the current threat environment, as potential adversaries continue to modernize their anti-aircraft systems, our ability to penetrate those systems must also modernize. The next generation bomber will ensure our ability to operate effectively in anti-access and area-denial environments, providing our commanders with both conventional and nuclear capabilities. As the Air Force continues to modernize, the Long-Range Strike Bomber remains a must-have capability for future combat operations, both as a deterrent and a military asset.

Beyond our nation’s greater national security needs, the next generation bomber program is potentially important for South Dakota. Ellsworth AFB, as the current home to the B-1B strategic bomber and MQ-9 Reaper, combining legacy aircraft and the cutting edge technology of unmanned weapons systems, would be a natural fit as the future home to the next generation Long-Range Strike Bomber.