The Air Force’s first operational B-21 Raider bomber will be based at Ellsworth Air Force Base, South Dakota, the service announced March 27.

Ellsworth, which is home to 27 B-1B Lancer bombers hosted by the 28th Bomb Wing, is the “preferred location” for the first operational B-21 – in development by Northrop Grumman [NOC] – and the first formal training unit (FTU), according to the Wednesday press release. Whiteman AFB, Missouri, and Dyess AFB, Texas, will receive the next-generation bombers “as they become available.”

Artist’s rendering of the Air Force’s Long Range Strike Bomber, designated B-21. Photo: Air Force.

The South Dakota base was chosen as the first location because it has sufficient space and existing facilities that allow it to perform simultaneous missions for a low cost and with minimal operational impact across the three chosen bases, the service said. A final B-21 basing decision will be made around 2021, following compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act and other regulatory and planning processes.

The Air Force plans to incrementally retire two out of its three current bomber jets – the B-2 Spirit as well as the B-1 – once enough B-21s are delivered. The service’s oldest bomber, the 1960s-era B-52 Stratofortress, will continue to operate out of Barksdale AFB, Louisiana, and Minot AFB, North Dakota, and is expected to continue flying into the 2050s after a series of modernization efforts, including a engine recapitalization program. The Air Force is expected to issue a request for proposals for the re-engine program this spring (Defense Daily, March 1).

The first B-21 Raider is expected to be delivered in the mid-2020s, the service said. Officials have offered few updates on the secretive program, but Air Force leaders including Secretary Heather Wilson have confirmed in recent appearances that the program is progressing on schedule. The service’s fiscal year 2020 presidential budget request included $3 billion in research, development, test and evaluation funds, up from $2.2 billion in FY ’19 (Defense Daily, March 12).

“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 Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein in the release.  “It is a central part of a penetrating joint team.”