Texas Official Critiques Ellsworth As Bases Compete For New Planes

Oct 15, 2020

An artist's rendering of a B-21 Raider at Ellsworth Air Force Base.
Credit Air Force

Air Force bases in South Dakota and Texas are in a competition to host the first B-21 Raiders when the new stealth bomber planes are ready to fly.

The Air Force is doing an environmental assessment at both bases. Virtual public hearings began Tuesday.

The first hearing was for Dyess Air Force Base in Texas. Doug Peters is president and CEO of the Abilene Chamber of Commerce. He took a couple of swipes at Ellsworth Air Force Base in South Dakota.

Peters mentioned the four historic structures that would be affected by adding B-21s to Ellsworth. Three would be demolished and one – Ellsworth's Pride Hangar – would be renovated.

“There are no historic properties in consideration at Dyess,” Peters said. “We believe that can help to facilitate a faster, less cumbersome process.”

He also made an apparent reference to weather in the two states.

“Construction is a lot simpler in west Texas than what you may find in South Dakota,” Peters said.

Peters was the only member of the public who spoke during the first hearing. Several more virtual hearings are scheduled, including one more this week for Dyess and two next week for Ellsworth.

The Air Force said last year that Ellsworth is the preferred location for the first B-21s. But that has to be supported by an environmental impact statement. The Air Force plans to finalize that statement and make a final decision by May.

Adding B-21s to Ellsworth would bring about 3,000 more people to the Rapid City area, according to the Air Force. The planes are expected to start flying sometime this decade.

The Air Force plans to order at least 100 B-21s from Northrop Grumman at a cost of more than $550 million per plane. They'll eventually be spread across three bases – Ellsworth, Dyess and Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri.

Ellsworth currently hosts B-1 bombers, which will be phased out. The base also has a squadron of drone pilots.

-Seth Tupper is SDPB's business and economic development reporter.