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B-21 shelter construction underway at Ellsworth Air Force Base

Construction of a B-21 Environmental Protection Shelter prototype is completed at Ellsworth Air Force Base near Rapid City on Feb. 26, 2021. The Air Force is testing various prototype shelters to identify the most effective and affordable designs that could be used at baes housing B-21s.

U.S. AIR FORCE

By NATHAN THOMPSON | Rapid City Journal, S.D. | Published: March 6, 2021

(Tribune News Service) — The B-21 program continues to progress with the recent construction and installation of a temporary prototype Environmental Protection Shelter at Ellsworth Air Force Base near Rapid City.

According to a news release, Air Force Global Strike Command and the B-21 Program Office are testing various prototype shelters to identify the most effective and affordable designs that could be used across all three B-21 Main Operating Bases, the depot and forward operating locations.

"Environmental Protection Shelters help extend the life of the aircraft and reduce required maintenance by limiting UV exposure, limiting snow accumulation and melt, and limiting icing/de-icing operations experienced by the aircraft over time," said Col. Derek Oakley, B-21 Integration and System Management Office director. "These shelters also help us generate sorties more quickly by eliminating the need to always have to move aircraft in and out of hangars."

The B-21 team considered installing the temporary prototype shelters at each of the three planned B-21 MOBs, but chose Ellsworth AFB as the base where weather conditions offer the opportunity to collect the most diverse amount of data, Oakley said.

"We will collect a few years of data on these shelters and then incorporate that data into the final Environmental Protection Shelter design," he said.

Oakley said the shelters will complement maintenance hangars expected at each Main Operating Base.

"Major maintenance activities will still be performed indoors in hangars, but the B-21 Raider design will also provide us the flexibility to perform routine maintenance right on the flight line," he said.

Beyond the prototype Environmental Protection Shelters activities, the Air Force also continues to prepare for the broader military construction requirements associated with B-21 bed-down. New facilities to operate and sustain a low observable bomber will have to be built at the three planned B-21 Main Operating Bases as well as the depot, the news release said.

Planning and design is now ongoing for facilities such as a Low Observable Maintenance Hangar, General Maintenance Hangar and other operations and maintenance structures. The Air Force recently participated in an industry day, hosted by the Rapid City Military Advisory Coalition, to raise awareness about possible construction opportunities.

Ellsworth AFB, Whiteman AFB, Missouri, and Dyess AFB, Texas, have all been named as the preferred locations for the three planned B-21 Main Operating Bases. Following the conclusion of the National Environmental Protection Act process, expected in the summer of 2021, the Air Force will announce the formal Record of Decision for the location of the first Main Operating Base.

Ellsworth AFB is the preferred location for the first B-21 Main Operating Base with Dyess AFB as a reasonable alternative.

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