This week, Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson announced that Ellsworth Air Force Base will be home to the B-21 Formal Training Unit and be the first base to receive an operational squadron of B-21 Raiders, which are the next-generation stealth bombers. This is great news for South Dakota and our national defense. It reaffirms the vital role Ellsworth will play in our defense strategy for years – if not generations – to come.
The B-21s are currently being developed as part of the Air Force’s Long Range Strike Bomber program and will be capable of delivering conventional or thermonuclear weapons. As a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, I’ve closely tracked the progress of the B-21 and even witnessed its development firsthand. I’m pleased that production is currently on schedule, with the first planes projected to be complete in the mid-2020s. Eventually, more than 100 B-21 bombers will be added to the force.
This announcement not only marks an important milestone for South Dakota and Ellsworth Air Force Base, it also reflects the progress being made to provide the Air Force with a state-of-the-art long range stealth platform. The strength of our bomber fleet will be a critical factor in our ability to reassure our allies, deter our adversaries and—if necessary—prevail in combat.
In times of crisis, America’s long-range bombers can reach any point on the globe within hours. A bombers’ ability to cover multiple theaters from a handful of secure locations will be critical to deterring aggression against our interests and allies. When they reach their targets, bombers can strike with many times the payload of a fighter. This is especially true of stealth bombers like the B-21, which will be able to penetrate enemy defenses while carrying large numbers of precision-guided weapons.
The cutting-edge technology of the B-21s is truly remarkable. With the B-21 Formal Training Unit and operational squadron coming to Ellsworth, South Dakota will have a vital role to play in the training and readiness of the B-21 crews as well as the housing and other needs of their families. We welcome this responsibility, which has been a long time in the making for many of us.
Solidifying Ellsworth as a vital piece of our long-term defense strategy has been a priority. While I was working as governor, we successfully removed Ellsworth from the Department of Defense’s proposed closure list during a Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) round in 2005. Also during that time, we created the Ellsworth Development Authority. Now a permanent fixture, the Ellsworth Development Authority’s mission is to protect, strengthen and promote the base.