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WASHINGTON — U.S. Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) today spoke about the importance of Ellsworth Air Force Base, its airmen, and the surrounding community ahead of the U.S. Air Force and Northrop Grumman’s unveiling of the new B-21 bomber, a sixth-generation aircraft that will revolutionize the Air Force’s long-range strike capabilities.
Thune’s remarks below (as prepared for delivery):
“Mr. President, tomorrow Northrop Grumman and the U.S. Air Force will unveil the new B-21 bomber – a sixth-generation aircraft that will revolutionize the Air Force’s long-range strike capabilities.
“I’ve had the special opportunity to see the first tails under development at Palmdale, and I am excited that this incredible feat of U.S. engineering will finally be unveiled to the American public – and to our adversaries.
“It’s an exciting day for the Air Force.
“And it’s an especially exciting day for Ellsworth Air Force Base in South Dakota, which was chosen to be the first home – Main Operating Base 1 – of the B-21 Raider.
“Mr. President, we’ve come a long way at Ellsworth since I first came to the Senate.
“Shortly after I took office, Ellsworth was recommended for closure by the Department of Defense’s Base Realignment and Closure Commission.
“And so one of my first priorities as a U.S. senator became getting Ellsworth taken off the closure list.
“Statistically speaking, our odds of pulling through were not high.
“But thanks to an all-hands effort by the congressional delegation and state and community leaders, we won the day.
“We were removed from the BRAC list that August.
“And then we got right to work on building up the base so that we would never again find ourselves in the same position.
“In 2007 the Air Force Financial Services Center opened at Ellsworth.
“2011 saw the arrival of the 89th Attack Squadron, and its command and control stations for MQ-9 Reapers.
“And in 2015 a nearly decade-long effort paid off with the quadrupling of the training air space for the base.
“The Powder River Training Complex is now the largest training air space in the continental United States and can be used for large-force exercises that draw combat aircraft from across the country.
“And it’s well-suited for B-21 training.
“This is just one of the efforts we undertook to put Ellsworth in the best possible position to secure the B-21 mission.
“And I am proud that it paid off with last June’s announcement that Ellsworth would become the “Home of the Raider.”
“Mr. President, the B-21 represents a significant step forward in our long-range strike capabilities.
“And it will come not a moment too soon.
“Between chronic underfunding and a high operational tempo during the war on terror, our military preparedness became seriously strained.
“A 2018 National Defense Strategy Commission report warned that our nation’s readiness had eroded to the point where we might struggle to win a war against a major power like Russia or China.
“This was not just because of the wear and tear on our own forces, but also because of the significant investments being made by China and Russia in their militaries with the intent of neutralizing our military strengths.
“We’ve made progress since then, but there is still a lot of work to be done.
“And the importance of continued investment in our nation’s military and our technological edge cannot be overstated.
“The events of the past year should remind us that there will always be bad actors who represent a threat to peace and freedom.
“And being prepared to meet those threats is the best way of preserving peace and keeping our nation secure.
“It’s disappointing that the National Defense Authorization Act – yearly legislation to authorize funding for our military and our national defense – has been so low on Democrats’ priority list this year.
“We’re two months into fiscal year 2023, and yet the Senate still hasn’t taken up the 2023 bill.
“Democrats were more focused on spending hundreds of billions on their Green New Deal priorities than they were on passing essential legislation for our nation’s defense.
“As efforts continue to negotiate a way to bring the NDAA to the floor, I hope we are able to pass a comprehensive bill that rejects the president’s inadequate funding request and addresses all of our key defense requirements.
“As always, one of my top priorities is ensuring that each year’s NDAA addresses the needs of our airmen at Ellsworth Air Force Base.
“Right now, I am working to ensure the base continues to receive full funding for the many equipment and support facilities that will be needed for the B-21 Raider mission.
“In late October I had the opportunity of reviewing the progress at Ellsworth firsthand with Secretary of the Air Force Frank Kendall, and suffice it to say things are going to be very busy over the coming years.
“The B-21 training and operational missions will require significant investments in new infrastructure, including a low-observable coating restoration facility and a radio frequency facility to support the Raider’s stealth properties, as well as a weapons generation facility to support its nuclear capability.
“This NDAA will continue this essential military construction and ensure it remains on pace in preparation for the arrival of the B-21.
“We also need to ensure Ellsworth remains a premier training space for our bombers, which is why I am pursuing a provision to require the Federal Aviation Administration to establish a pilot program to support the development of “dynamic airspace.”
“Dynamic airspace, sometimes called adaptive airspace, refers to efficiently scheduling and managing airspace and adjusting airspace boundaries as military exercises or other flights proceed through them.
“This concept will better enable the Pentagon to meet training requirements for aircraft like the B-21, which need larger volumes of training airspace to accommodate longer engagement distances.
“And as always, while we prepare for the B-21 mission, I continue to work to ensure that our B-1s at Ellsworth receive all the resources they need to remain a responsive and lethal component of Global Strike Command, as they demonstrated in the just-completed Bomber Task Force deployment to Guam.
“Mr. President, while updated planes and equipment are essential, as always our greatest resource is the men and women who wear the uniform.
“And I will continue to work to improve quality of life for our Ellsworth airmen and their families.
“More military families will be moving into the communities surrounding Ellsworth with the arrival of the B-21 mission, and another one of my priorities is making sure that the infrastructure is in place to provide ample support for these new families.
“I worked to include a provision in this year’s NDAA that would allow the secretary of defense to continue to adjust basic allowance for housing rates if an installation is experiencing a sudden increase in the number of service members assigned there.
“This will help ensure that families at Ellsworth and elsewhere will have the resources they need to secure appropriate accommodations.
“I’m also working to ensure that the Douglas School District is able to integrate and support Air Force members’ children and provide sufficient classroom space.
“And I’m grateful to the other members of South Dakota’s congressional delegation for working with me to ensure that this year’s NDAA will authorize up to $15 million in Impact Aid funding for schools experiencing force structure changes like the anticipated growth at Ellsworth.
“Mr. President, I’m looking forward to tomorrow’s unveiling of the B-21 Raider – and to that day in the near future when the first Raider lands at Ellsworth.
“It’s an honor to be part of building up the base and to represent the men and women of Ellsworth in the United States Senate.
“And I will continue to do everything I can to ensure that our Ellsworth airmen – and all our men and women in uniform, in every branch of the military – have everything they need to carry out their missions.
“Mr. President, I yield the floor.”