U.S. Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) issued the following statement after the U.S. Air Force signed a record of decision officially designating Ellsworth Air Force Base to be Main Operating Base 1 for the B-21 bomber. This designation not only means that Ellsworth will be the first base to host the B-21 Raider, but it will host the formal training unit and first operational squadron.
“South Dakotans know what an asset Ellsworth Air Force Base is to our state and our country, and today, we’re incredibly proud of this historic, once-in-a-generation opportunity to host the B-21 bomber,” said Thune. “It’s redeeming to still have Ellsworth at the forefront of our national defense when we were slated for closure 16 years ago. This mission will bring thousands of new airmen, spouses, and dependents to the base, spur hundreds of millions of dollars of construction activity in preparation for the stealth and nuclear mission, and drive increased economic development in the region. It’s an exciting time for Raider Country and everyone who’s worked so hard to make today possible.”
Thune has played an integral role in advocating for and investing in Ellsworth’s future throughout his time in Congress, foremost through his efforts to remove Ellsworth from the Base Realignment and Closure list upon his arrival in the Senate in 2005. The closure of Ellsworth would have been devastating for the local economy and America’s national security. Since then, Thune has sought every opportunity to expand the base’s mission to ensure it would never again be at risk of closure.
In 2006, Thune advocated for the Air Force placing the consolidated Air Force Financial Services Center at Ellsworth. The financial services mission required a new, high-capacity communications network, which enabled Ellsworth to be a front-runner for adding a command and control mission for the remotely piloted MQ-9 Reaper, which began at the base in 2010. Most notably, Thune led a decade-long effort to secure the expansion of Ellsworth’s training airspace, the Powder River Training Complex (PRTC). Leveraging his position as the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, Thune worked with the Air Force and Federal Aviation Administration to quadruple the airspace, making it the largest training airspace in the continental United States. Military aircraft from around the country now participate in large force exercises that are conducted in the PRTC, and the expanded training range will allow airmen to fly the B-21 in realistic combat conditions, which require longer engagement distances.
According to the Final Environmental Impact Statement (Final EIS) produced as part of the formal basing decision, the B-21 mission will support a projected 7,700 airmen, spouses, and dependents at Ellsworth, with a total end-state increase of 3,147 individuals. These figures will increase beyond end-state projections during the transition from the B-1 mission to the B-21. The Final EIS also projects that, in addition to 1,664 new airmen, the mission will result in 582 indirect jobs and $23,878,400 in economic activity. Approximately 4.3 million square feet of new construction and 1.7 million square feet of renovation will be conducted over the next several years in preparation for the B-21 mission. The record of decision formally enables the Air Force to proceed with planning and contracting for the military construction activity, which will progress alongside the active B-1 mission.