Sens. John Thune (R-S.D.) and Mike Rounds (R-S.D.) are awaiting the U.S. Air Force rollout of the Northrop Grumman [NOC] B-21 Raider stealth bomber this year and the economic benefits that the program is expected to bring to the state.

The Air Force has said that six of the bombers are in varying stages of construction in Palmdale, Calif. This week, after visiting the site, Rounds said that he was “pleased to report the B-21 is on time and on budget.”

“The public can expect the B-21 to be revealed later this year,” he said. “This aircraft will play a crucial role in the defense of our nation and will have a significant economic impact on the Rapid City area for generations to come.”

Ellsworth AFB is to be the first base to receive the B-21. Last year’s omnibus appropriations law included B-21 related construction at Ellsworth, including the Air Force’s request for $91 million for a two-bay low-observable coatings restoration plant, $65 million for a wash rack and maintenance hangar, and $24 million for an expanded flight simulator facility.

The Senate Armed Services Committee’s version of the fiscal 2023 defene authorization bill “continues that work with additional funding for the low-observable (LO) coating restoration facility, as well as funding for two additional construction projects—a weapons generation facility and a radio frequency facility—that will be needed to ensure Ellsworth is fully able to conduct the nuclear and stealth B–21 missions,” Thune said on the Senate floor on July 20.

The SASC bill authorizes the Air Force request for $77 million for the B-21 radio frequency facility and $50 million for the weapons generation facility but only $31 million of the Air Force’s $91 million ask for the LO coating restoration building.

“More military families will be moving into the Ellsworth area with the arrival of the B-21 mission—as many as 250 people per year, including 100 dependents,” Thune said. “I am committed to ensuring that the infrastructure is in place to provide ample facilities for these families. To that end, I worked to include in this year’s NDAA an extension of an authority for the Secretary of Defense to adjust basic allowance for housing rates if an installation is experiencing a sudden increase in the number of service members assigned there.”

Thune also said that his priority “is ensuring Ellsworth remains a responsive and lethal component of [Air Force] Global Strike Command, with the B–1 bomber leveraging the Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile and its Long Range Anti-Ship Missile derivative.”

Lockheed Martin [LMT] builds both missiles.

Northrop Grumman said in May that the company had begun loads calibration testing in Palmdale of the first B-21 (Defense Daily, May 25).

The Air Force fiscal 2023 budget request contains the first procurement funding for the B-21–nearly $1.8 billion for the low-rate initial production phase (LRIP).

The loads calibration of the first B-21 consists of a number of instrumentation and aircraft structural tests that stress the airframe from zero to 100 percent under various flight and maneuver conditions.

First flight is expected next year, the company has said.

Sales from the B-21 are expected to grow as the engineering and manufacturing development (EMD) phase of the program continues and LRIP begins in parallel, Kathy Warden, chairwoman, president and CEO of Northrop Grumman, said on an earnings call with analysts last month (Defense Daily, Apr. 28).

Northrop Grumman’s bid for the B-21 included a specific quantity of LRIP aircraft at a fixed-price, Warden said, noting that while she can’t disclose the number of aircraft, “it’s a small portion of the overall program of record.”