The U.S. Air Force Civil Engineer Center is leading a large-scale, multi-year facilities construction project to deliver infrastructure needed to support the beddown of the B-21 Raider stealth bomber, the future backbone of the Air Force bomber fleet. The B-21 will incrementally replace the B-1 Lancer and B-2 Spirit to perform both conventional and nuclear missions alongside the B-52 Stratofortress. As the Air Force transitions to a two-bomber fleet, the strategy to beddown the new bomber has been to minimize operational impacts, maximize reuse of existing facilities and reduce overhead as much as possible.
In 2019, the secretary of the Air Force announced that the preferred locations for the B-21 are Ellsworth AFB, South Dakota, Whiteman AFB, Missouri and Dyess AFB. After completing the requirements within the National Environmental Protection Act and the Environmental Impact Statement, in June 2021, the Air Force signed a Record of Decision officially naming Ellsworth AFB, South Dakota, as the first B-21 Main Operating Base, or MOB. A second NEPA/EIS is anticipated to begin in 2022 to assess the selection for the second and third MOBs.
AFCEC has been working hand-in-hand with Air Force Global Strike Command, the DAF Rapid Capabilities Office, the Air Force Installation and Mission Support Center’s Detachment 10 and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to ensure infrastructure is in place at all MOBs to support this critical combat capability when the first aircraft is delivered to Ellsworth AFB in the mid-2020s. As the program makes steady progress through the engineering and manufacturing development phase, Ellsworth AFB was selected as the test site to construct a temporary prototype Environmental Protection Shelter in March 2020, for which AFCEC delivered the planning. The location of the installation provides the most extreme and diverse weather conditions to test the temporary structures.
“The installation of the prototype shelter will collect data necessary to identify the most effective and affordable EPS designs for facilities to extend the life of the new aircraft and protect maintainers working on the aircraft on the flight line. It is a large construction program for a single base which is always challenging. We are well into the planning and design stages for many projects that are expected during fiscal years 2022 – 2024 and will soon begin planning for projects we anticipate for FY25 and beyond. We will be awarding five more construction contracts in 2022,” said Tom Hodges, AFCEC’s Mobility Support Branch chief.
Beyond the shelter prototype activities, AFCEC continues beddown planning at Ellsworth AFB and expects to finalize the design for mission-critical infrastructure over the next five to 10 years. The program will account for everything from new buildings to supporting infrastructure with a mix of military construction, and operations and maintenance projects. Overall, the Air Force is projecting a $1 billion investment at Ellsworth AFB to meet warfighter demands for bomber airpower. This is a very complex program requiring careful programming, diligent planning and close partnerships with stakeholders to minimize the construction impact and maintain continuity of current B-1B operations, Gabriel said.
Specifically, Ellsworth AFB will receive a mission operations planning facility, training and flight-simulator facilities, wash rack and general maintenance hangar, warehouses and equipment storage in addition to new roads, parking and airfield infrastructure. So far, AFCEC, in partnership with USACE, AFGSC and the 28th Civil Engineer Squadron, awarded construction for an approximate $130 million low-observable restoration facility at the South Dakota installation Sept. 17, 2021. It will provide a new state-of-the-art, 90,000-square-foot, two-bay facility with paint booth type functionality to support B-21 weapons system maintenance and operations. New construction to meet B-21 mission requirements at Ellsworth AFB is expected to be completed over the next five to 10 years.