Ellsworth AFB named first base for B-21 bomber

The Air Force announced the first operational B-21, expected for delivery sometime in 2025, will be based at Ellsworth, as will the formal training unit for the aircraft.

By Allen Cone
Ellsworth AFB named first base for B-21 bomber
In February 2016, the U.S. Air Force revealed an artist's rendering of the future B-21 Long-Range Strike Bomber, which was named the Raider in September 2016. Photo courtesy U.S. Air Force

March 28 (UPI) -- The U.S. Air Force has selected Ellsworth Air Force Base in South Dakota as the first location to house an operational B-21 Raider bomber unit and become the formal training unit.

Two other Air Force bases -- Whiteman in Missouri and Dyess in Texas -- will receive B-21s as they become available, the Air Force said in a news release Wednesday.


"These three bomber bases are well suited for the B-21," Secretary of the Air Force Heather A. Wilson said in a statement. "We expect the first B-21 Raider to be delivered beginning in the mid-2020s, with subsequent deliveries phased across all three bases."

The Air Force said Ellsworth AFB was selected as the first location "because it provides sufficient space and existing facilities necessary to accommodate simultaneous missions at the lowest cost and with minimal operational impact across all three bases."

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In 2021, the Air Force plans to make its final B-21 basing decision in compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act and other regulatory and planning processes. The first B-21s are expected for delivery sometime in 2025, the Air Force has previously said.

The Air Force last November announced that Tinker Air Force Base in Oklahoma would maintain and sustain the B-21, and Edwards in California would handle testing and evaluation. Robins Air Force Base in Georgia and Hill Air Force Base in Utah will support Tinker in maintenance, overhaul and upgrades of the B-21.


"We are procuring the B-21 Raider as a long-range, highly-survivable aircraft capable of penetrating enemy airspace with a mix of weapons," Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David L. Goldfein said in Wednesday's release. "It is a central part of a penetrating joint team."

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The military branch is planning for the B-21s to replace B-1 Lancers and B-2 Spirits.

Wilson said last year the Air Force will "continue necessary B-1 and B-2 modifications to keep them relevant until the B-21s come on line."

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The B-1Bs and B-2s are expected to be fully retired by the mid-2030s.

The service plans to purchase at least 100 B-21s initially.

By the 2040s, the Air Force projects a fleet of 175 heavy bombers made up of B-52s and B-21s, the Drive reported.

Two bases -- Barksdale in Louisiana and Minot in North Dakota -- will continue to host the B-52 Stratofortress, which the Air Force expects continue conducting operations through 2050.

Few details have been released on the B-21 Raider, including the development costs.

In February 2016, the Air Force released the first artist's conception of the new bomber, which strongly resembles the well known B-2 Spirit stealth bomber.


The Raider name, in honor of the Doolittle Raiders, was announced in September that year.

The aircraft design completed its critical design review late last year.

Northrop Grumman, which is designing and developing the plane at its facility in Melbourne, Fla., is working with seven other firms on the B-21: BAE Systems, GKN Aerospace, Janicki Industries, Orbital ATK, Pratt & Whitney, Rockwell Collins, and Spirit AeroSystems.

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