Recent Op-Eds

A Bright Future for Ellsworth

By Sen. John Thune

December 2, 2022

The Air Force and Northrop Grumman recently unveiled the brand-new B-21 Raider, a sixth-generation aircraft and the future backbone of the Air Force’s bomber fleet. When this cutting-edge aircraft enters service, South Dakota’s own Ellsworth Air Force Base will be the B-21 mission’s first home base. The Raider is an incredible feat of engineering, and its unveiling is an exciting moment both for the future of the Air Force and for South Dakota’s continued role in our national security.

As Ellsworth prepares for its new chapter as the “Home of the Raider,” it’s hard to believe that its future was uncertain not long ago. Shortly after I was elected to the U.S. Senate, Ellsworth was slated for closure by the Department of Defense, and one of my first priorities as a senator became keeping Ellsworth open. Statistically, our odds of success were not high, but thanks to an all-hands effort from state and community leaders, we got Ellsworth removed from the closure list.

We didn’t stop with preventing Ellsworth from closing, though. We immediately got to work building up the base to ensure its future would never again be in jeopardy. In 2007, the Air Force Financial Services Center opened at Ellsworth. The 89th Attack Squadron arrived four years later, and, in 2015, a nearly decade-long effort paid off with the quadrupling of the base’s training airspace.

When the first B-21 lands in the Black Hills, the airmen at Ellsworth will be ready to support the Air Force’s most advanced aircraft. I am continuing to work toward securing full and timely funding for the new infrastructure that the B-21 training and operational missions will require, including those to support the Raider’s stealth properties and weapons systems. I am also working to ensure Ellsworth remains a premier training space for our bombers, which is why I have proposed a “dynamic airspace” pilot program to develop how airspace boundaries are managed to accommodate modern training requirements like longer engagement distances.

While planes and equipment are essential, the greatest resources are the men and women who wear the uniform and all of the hardworking employees who help support the base’s missions, and I am continuing to work to improve the quality of life for our Ellsworth airmen and their families. The arrival of the B-21 mission will bring more military families into the communities surrounding Box Elder, which is why I am working to ensure these families can secure housing in the area and that the Douglas School District has the school capacity to integrate and support Air Force families’ children.

Ellsworth has come a long way in the 17 years since it was threatened with closure. It is an honor to be part of building up the base as a critical part of our West River communities and our national security. I am proud to represent the men and women of Ellsworth in the U.S. Senate, and I will continue to do everything I can to ensure our Ellsworth airmen – and all our men and women in uniform – have everything they need to carry out their missions.