BOX ELDER -- The future of Ellsworth Air Force Base appeared to be further solidified this week when a high-ranking Air Force official signaled that new bomber planes under development will eventually be stationed at bases that already have existing bombers.
Air Force Chief of Staff David Goldfein made the comments Monday in an interview with Defense News.
“Based on the infrastructure required to support a bomber force, it’s highly likely that if you’ve got a bomber at your base, you’re going to have a bomber at your base,” Goldfein was quoted as saying.
Ellsworth, near Rapid City, is currently home to B-1B Lancer bombers, which are as old as 31 years. In future years, the Air Force plans to accept delivery of new B-21 Raider bombers that could replace the B-1s sometime during the 2020s. Northrop Grumman is developing the B-21s at an anticipated cost of $550 million per plane, with the Air Force expected to order 100 to 200 of them.
U.S. Sen. John Thune greeted Goldfein’s comments with enthusiasm Tuesday and said it’s another sign of Ellsworth’s improved strength since nearly being closed during a round of base closures in 2005.
“This is a massive turnaround from where we were back in those dark days,” Thune said.
Ellsworth's history dates to 1942, when it was called the Rapid City Army Air Base. Community and state leaders have fiercely defended it from closure over the years because of the thousands of jobs, both military and civilian, that the base supports in the region.
In recent years, the base’s standing in the Air Force was improved with the expansion of the Powder River Training Complex, a vast training airspace operated from the base.
Thune referenced rising tensions with North Korea as evidence of the need for an upgraded bomber force and noted that the B-21s are being designed to carry nuclear weapons.
“The necessity of a new bomber platform to be part of our arsenal is really critical,” Thune said. “We’re going to need bombers, and our base is well-positioned to continue to be a host for them.”