Congress continues to fund B-21 for Ellsworth AFB

 (U.S. Air Force)
(U.S. Air Force) (KOTA)
Published: Dec. 12, 2019 at 2:07 PM MST
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The nation's defense spending bill for next year has several earmarks for Ellsworth Air Force Base, including more than $3 billion for the development of the new B-21 bomber -- scheduled to debut at Ellsworth in the mid-2020s.

“What this does for Ellsworth is it continues the B-21 program on target. So it makes sure the B-21 is the nation’s newest weapons platform, which will be stationed at Ellsworth Air Force Base, is on time for delivery,” Sen. Mike Rounds said.

Sometime next year, work will begin at Ellsworth to bed down the B-21 raider, according to Rounds.

“Before the B-21 even arrives at Ellsworth Air Force Base there will be other work that has to be done. We’ll be talking about housing for the number of people who will be coming on board; we’ll be talking about the facilities we need,” the senator said.

The fiscal

has a provision in it to spend $24.8 million for a new hydrant fuel system at Ellsworth. It will replace the current, antiquated system that has parts nearly 60 years old.

Congress isn’t forgetting about keeping the B-1 bomber flying while the B-21 comes on line. Tucked in the NDAA is a Senate provision to increase the readiness of the B-1 Lancer.

The Senate wants the Air Force to brief it on the bomber’s readiness by the end of February 2020. The Air Force is supposed to brief about the aircraft’s structural issues, training and repair timelines as well as continued upgrades and improvements.

The 30-year-old B-1 will ultimately be replaced by the new B-21 Raider. But that won’t happen until the mid-2020s and the B-1 isn’t expected to be fully retired until 2040.

At first, Ellsworth will have a B-21 training and operational squadron alongside the current two B-1 operational squadrons. Ellsworth will also be the first of three bases to have an operational B-21 squadron.

The Air Force stated Ellsworth will bed down the new bomber first because the base has the existing infrastructure to accommodate B-21 and B-1 operations at the same time.

Another element in the 2020 NDAA that could impact South Dakota concerns the Air National Guard. Rounds discussed the possibility of F-35 fighters being stationed in Sioux Falls. The military is adding more F-35s to the budget thank originally planned, according to Rounds.

The bill passed the U.S. House and the Senate is expected to pass the bill next week. President Donald Trump said he'll sign it.