The Air Force will soon start studies assessing the environmental impact of basing the B-21 Raider at Dyess Air Force Base, Texas, and Ellsworth Air Force Base, S.D., the service announced on March 6. One of the two locations will be the first base to host the bomber.
Typical environmental assessments consider the impact of operations, noise, and pollution from a weapon system on the local area’s population, agricultural enterprises, water quality, transportation, cultural resources, airspace, and wildlife.
The two bases were chosen because they already operate B-1B bombers, which means basing the B-21s in either location will “minimize mission impact, maximize facility re-use, minimize cost, and reduce overhead, as well as leverage the strengths of each base to optimize the B-21 beddown strategy,” according to the Air Force announcement. Public hearings will be held in nearby locations through April.
The announcement, published in the Federal Register, said the environmental impact analysis will support the choice of “Main Operating Base 1” for the B-21, which will include B-21 operational squadrons, a B-21 formal training unit, and a weapons generation facility. The announcement noted the B-21 will be capable of “penetrating and surviving into advanced air defense environments,” delivering both conventional and nuclear weapons. Future beddown locations will be chosen after MOB 1 is selected.
The B-21 is expected to enter into service in the 2020s, and USAF plans to build at least 100 of the aircraft, which will fall under Air Force Global Strike Command.
In addition to Dyess and Ellsworth, Air Force leaders have said the B-21 will likely also beddown at Whiteman Air Force Base, Mo., which has been home to the small B-2 stealth bomber fleet since the early 1990s.
Besides direct area impacts, the assessment will consider the areas where the B-21s will practice. In South Dakota—as well as neighboring states Wyoming, Montana, and North Dakota—it would be the Powder River Training Complex. In the Southwest, it would be the Brownwood Military Operating Area, the Lancer MOA, and the Pecos MOA, in Texas and New Mexico.
The Air Force needs to base the B-21 in an “appropriate geographic location” that can support operations, training, facilities, and airspace for the bomber mission, according to the announcement.
The hearings will be held to address “scoping comments” from affected local communities. Local newspapers will be alerted as to the hearing schedule 15 days ahead of each one.