The Air Force Civil Engineer Center at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas, is leading a large-scale, multi-year facilities construction project to deliver infrastructure needed to support the bed down of the B-21 Raider stealth bomber, the future backbone of the Air Force bomber fleet.
The B-21 Raider 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 bed down the new B-21 bomber has been to minimize operational impacts, maximize the reuse of existing facilities and reduce overhead as much as possible.
“Maintaining the lethality and readiness of Air and Space Forces requires continuous sustainment and modernization of mission-critical infrastructure,” said Col. Dave Norton, deputy director of AFCEC’s Facility Engineering Directorate. “AFCEC partners with the Department of the Air Force to deliver resilient and sustainable infrastructure solutions required to successfully accomplish missions of national defense.”
In 2019, the Secretary of the Air Force announced that the preferred locations for the B-21 Raider are Ellsworth AFB, S.D., Whiteman AFB, Mo., and Dyess AFB, Texas. 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 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, South Dakota, 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”, said Tom Hodges, chief of AFCEC’s Mobility Support Branch.
Beyond the shelter prototype activities, AFCEC continues bed-down planning at Ellsworth and expects to finalize the design for mission-critical infrastructure over the next five to ten years.
The program will account for everything from new buildings to supporting infrastructure with a mix of military construction, and operations and maintenance projects.
“It is a large construction program for a single base which is always challenging,” Hodges said. “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.”
Overall, the Air Force is projecting a $1 billion investment at Ellsworth to meet warfighter demands for bomber airpower.
“We are actively working with mission commanders on a wide scope of bed-down requirements for the new weapons system, and we anticipate awarding projects worth up to $410 million at Ellsworth in the next year,” said Naomi Gabriel, program manager at AFCEC.
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, said Gabriel.
Specifically, Ellsworth 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 on 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. Construction will also include airfield paving, site features, and supporting infrastructure.
New construction to meet Raider mission requirements at Ellsworth is expected to be completed over the next five to 10 years.