U.S. Sens. Mike Rounds (R-SD) and Kristi Noem (R-SD) commended the U.S. Air Force for selecting Ellsworth Air Force Base (AFB) in South Dakota as one of three bomber bases to house the nation’s first B-21 Raider Bombers.

The B-21 heavy Raider bomber being developed by federal contractor, Northrop Grumman, is part of the Long Range Strike Bomber program (LRS-B), and will be a long-range, stealth strategic bomber for the United States Air Force that is capable of delivering conventional or thermonuclear weapons.

The Air Force announced on May 2 that the B-21 Raider will replace B-1 Lancer and B-2 Spirit aircraft during the mid-2020s at Ellsworth AFB, Dyess AFB in Texas and Whiteman AFB in Missouri. Air Force officials said that using these three current bomber bases will minimize operational impact, reduce overhead, maximize re-use of facilities, and minimize cost. A decision on which AFB would be first among the three bases to receive the new B-21 bombers has not yet been determined, officials said.

Sen. Rounds welcomed the selection of Ellsworth AFB as one of the hosts for the B-21s, and said the decision “reaffirms the vital role Ellsworth plays in our national defense.”

Sen. Rounds, a member of the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee, said on May 2 that he plans to continue working with U.S. Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson and other stakeholders to ensure the branch “fully considers the tremendous value of Ellsworth and the value to our nation of placing the B-21 there as soon as possible.”

Sen. Noem, who noted that the Air Force expects to have a fleet of at least 100 aircraft, said she’s “awfully proud” of the work accomplished thus far at Ellsworth AFB.

“From the expanded Powder River Training Complex to the good work done by the Ellsworth Development Authority, we’ve seen Ellsworth’s national security role grow,” Sen. Noem said. “I’m thrilled Ellsworth will have the opportunity to continue serving a mission-critical role as home to America’s next-generation workhorse: the B-21 bomber.”

Gen. David Goldfein, chief of staff of the Air Force, said in a written statement that the B-21 Raider is being developed “to replace our aging bombers as a long-range, highly-survivable aircraft capable of carrying mixed conventional and nuclear payloads, to strike any target worldwide.”

Although the first B-21s aren’t expected for several more years, the Air Force doesn’t plan to retire existing bombers until sufficient numbers of B-21s are made to replace them, officials said.

The B-21 Raider name is rooted at Ellsworth AFB, where World War II airmen with the 34th and 37th Bomb Squadrons there flew the Doolittle Raid, described by Sen. Rounds’ staff as a “daring attack on the Japanese mainland that proved to be a pivotal point in the Pacific.”

“The men and women of these two combat squadrons continue to make us proud today, flying B-1B combat missions in the Middle East,” Sen. Rounds said, and they recently returned from operations in the Pacific.

“This decision by the Air Force cements a long and storied legacy of our great airmen and their accomplishments and I look forward to the day when the first B-21 lands at Ellsworth,” he added.

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