Some Ellsworth Bombers Could Be Headed For The Boneyard

Feb 13, 2020

A B-1B Lancer assigned to Ellsworth Air Force Base descends after conducting air refueling operations with a KC-135R Stratotanker in September 2019 over central Utah.
Credit Air National Guard photo by Tech. Sgt. John Winn

Reductions in force at Ellsworth Air Force Base usually trigger alarm bells in South Dakota’s congressional delegation. 


But this time, Republican Sen. Mike Rounds agrees with a plan to retire some of the base’s planes. 

President Trump has released his recommended budget for the 2021 fiscal year. It includes a budget for the Air Force. And the Air Force budget includes a plan to retire 17 B-1 bombers

The Air Force has about 60 B-1s now. They’re split between Ellsworth Air Force Base near Rapid City and Dyess Air Force Base in Texas. 

Lately, though, as few as six of the bombers have been operational. The others have been in the shop getting repairs. Many of the planes are worn out after years of flying missions over Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq.

Senator Rounds is on the Armed Services Committee. He said the plan to retire some B-1s has been discussed for months. Some of the B-1s are 40 years old.

“I actually support the Air Force in their attempt to refocus to get a number of them flying again both at Ellsworth and at Dyess, using spare parts from the ones that would be committed to basically surplus or into the bone pile,” Rounds said Thursday. “This is not unanticipated. It’s simply a matter of fact that we’ve worn them out.” 

Rounds said he doesn’t know how many of the retired B-1s will come from Ellsworth. He said there won’t be a reduction in personnel at the base. 

Rounds also said the development of the new B-21 bombers is on time, on target and on budget. Congress has already spent $8 billion to support B-21 development. Billions more will be spent in the coming years to buy the planes for about $600 million apiece from Northrop Grumman. The B-21s are expected to begin replacing B-1s at Ellsworth sometime this decade.