Air Force announces Ellsworth as first B-21 base

The Air Force Ellsworth, Whiteman and Dyess Air Force Bases will begin housing and supporting the aircraft in the mid-2020s.

An artist's rendering of the B-21 Raider. The Air Force Ellsworth, Whiteman and Dyess Air Force Bases will begin housing and supporting the aircraft in the mid-2020s. (U.S. Air Force graphic)

WASHINGTON --

The Air Force announced today that Ellsworth Air Force Base, South Dakota, has been selected as the preferred location for the first operational B-21 bomber and the formal training unit.

Whiteman AFB, Missouri, and Dyess AFB, Texas, will receive B-21 Raiders as they become available.

The Air Force used a deliberate process to minimize mission impact during the transition, maximize facility reuse, minimize cost and reduce overhead.

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

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. The Air Force will incrementally retire existing B-1 Lancers and B-2 Spirits when a sufficient number of B-21s are delivered. 

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

Barksdale AFB, Louisiana and Minot AFB, North Dakota, will continue to host the B-52 Stratofortress, which is expected to continue conducting operations through 2050.

The Air Force will make its final B-21 basing decision following compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act and other regulatory and planning processes. That decision is expected in 2021 and is part of the overall Air Force Strategic Basing Process.

What does this mean for Whiteman AFB?

Whiteman AFB will house B-21 Operational Flying Squadrons to fulfill the Air Force’s requirements to grow its bomber fleet.

There are many factors that drove the Air Force to select Whiteman in sequence and with the combination of units selected in the decision. Whiteman is the only current location with a B-2 mission; therefore, it must remain operational until sufficient B-21 aircraft are fielded at Ellsworth AFB.

Whiteman does not have sufficient space and existing facilities necessary to accommodate a B-21 formal training unit and operational missions and B-2 missions simultaneously. As B-2s are phased out, B-21s will be phased in and using current bomber bases will minimize operational impact, reduce overhead, maximize re-use of facilities, and minimize cost. 

“Team Whiteman is excited about the Air Force’s decision that our base will host the B-21 Raider,” said Brig. Gen. John Nichols, commander of the 509th Bomb Wing at Whiteman AFB. “As home of the world’s most strategic aircraft, Whiteman is absolutely the right choice to be one of the bases that will house the next generation of stealth bombers. The B-21 – like the B-2 has done for the past 30 years – will support the nuclear triad by providing visible and flexible nuclear options and conventional capabilities that will assure allies and partners, anytime and anywhere.”