44° 08'N 103°06'W
In the 2005 BRAC Recommendations, DoD recommended to close Ellsworth AFB (see below for detials).
Ellsworth AFB, located about 7 miles east of Rapid City, South Dakota, is home to the B-1B Lancer. Ellsworth was known as "The Showplace of Strategic Air Command" as it continued to fight the Cold War by maintaining two legs of America's strategic triad: strategic bombardment and land-based ICBMs. Originally named the Rapid City Army Air Base, this World War II-era installation served as a bomber base then and throughout the Cold War. As a Strategic Air Command installation, Ellsworth hosted two generations of ICBMs and provides an outstanding case study for understanding the difficulties and costs associated with constructing a first-generation missile complex and how the experience was applied to constructing a second-generation complex.
On Jan. 2, 1942, the U.S. War Department established Rapid City Army Air Base as a training location for Flying Fortress crews. From September 1942 -- when its military runways first opened -- until mission needs changed in July 1945, the field's instructors taught thousands of pilots, navigators, radio operators and gunners from nine heavy bombardment groups and numerous smaller units. All training focused on the Allied drive to overthrow the Axis powers in Europe. After World War II, the base briefly trained weather reconnaissance and combat squadrons using P-61 Black Widow, P-38 Lightning, P-51 Mustang, and B-25 Mitchell aircraft. Those missions soon ended, however, and Rapid City Army Air Field temporarily shut down from September 1946 until March 1947.
When operations resumed in 1947 the base was a new United States Air Force asset. The primary unit assigned to Rapid City Air Force Base was the new 28th Bombardment Wing flying the B-29 Superfortress. Shortly after additional runway improvements in July 1949, the 28th Bombardment Wing began conversion from, to the huge B-36 Peacemaker. In April 1950 the Air Staff reassigned the base from 15th Air Force to 8th Air Force.
The base experienced one of its worst peacetime tragedies in March 1953 when an RB-36 and its entire crew of 25, crashed in Newfoundland while returning from an exercise in Europe. On June 13, 1953, President Dwight D. Eisenhower made a personal visit to dedicate the base in memory of Brig. Gen. Richard E. Ellsworth, commander of the 28th Strategic Reconnaissance Wing, who lost his life in that accident. The base has been especially honored to bear the commander's name ever since.
The Strategic Air Command set plans in motion to replace the 28th's B-36s with the new all-jet B-52 Stratofortress, and the last B-36 left Ellsworth on May 29, 1957 and the first B-52 arrived 16 days later.
In October 1960, Ellsworth entered the "Space Age," with the activation of the 850th Strategic Missile Squadron, initially assigned to the 28th Bombardment Wing. For more than a year, this squadron prepared for the emplacement of Titan I intercontinental ballistic missiles, which finally arrived in 1962, shortly after the activation of the 44th Strategic Missile Wing in January. At that time Headquarters Strategic Air Command also named the 44th Strategic Missile Wing as the host wing at Ellsworth.
The contractors for the Titan I project, Leavell-Scott & Associates, represented a consortium of eight partners. On December 8, 1959, this consortium was awarded the contract to build the three missile complexes of three missiles each at New Underwood, Hermosa, and Sturgis. Army Corps of Engineers oversight initially came from the Omaha Engineer District. Ten months into the project, this responsibility was transferred to the Corps of Engineers Ballistic Missile Construction Office based out of Los Angeles.
The initial estimate of the contract was $47.2 million. By March 1962, this number had grown to $64 million, an increase of 31 percent as a result of 265 modifications to the original contract. Frequently, changes required demolishing previous work. Finding skilled labor proved to be a challenge. Eventually, many workers had to be brought to the area and the project suffered high worker turn-over rates. Labor-management relations were amicable. At the peak of construction, some 2,500 workers worked at the three launch complexes. There were 15 short work stoppages, most lasting less than a day. A strike at General Electric in October 1960, delayed receipt of terminals that also set back the completion date.
As at other first-generation missile sites, the installation of the propellant loading system proved to be an expensive undertaking. Excessive groundwater at complex 1C required $500,000 in additional costs to control seepage.
Difficulties between the site engineer and the Site Activation Task Force (SATAF') arose upon site completion. Because the SATAF refused to assume responsibility for the site until practically every item was in full working order, contractors often spent months maintaining equipment long after it had been installed. With construction under way, the Air Force activated the 850th Strategic Missile Squadron on December 1, 1960.
On May 16,1964, Secretary of Defense McNamara directed an accelerated phaseout of Titan I and Atlas ICBMs. Consequently, the Titan Is of the 850th Strategic Missile Squadron were removed from alert status on January 4, 1965. The Air Force subsequently deactivated the squadron on March 25th.
Titan's lifespan was short in western South Dakota. In July 1962, Strategic Air Command had effectively rendered it obsolete by activating the 66th Strategic Missile Squadron, the first of three such units slated to operate 150 Minuteman I ICBMs under the 44th Strategic Missile Wing. The 67th Strategic Missile Squadron joined the 44th in August, followed by the 68th Strategic Missile Squadron in September 1962.
On August 21, 1961, construction began on the Minuteman IB facilities-The contract to build the 150 silos and associated launch control facilities was executed by Peter Kiewit Sons' Company of Omaha, Nebraska, using designs developed by Parsons-Stavens, Architect Engineer, in Los Angeles.
Activation of the 44th Strategic Missile Wing on January 1, 1962, marked the initiation of SAC's first Minuteman "IB" wing. Seven months later, the activation of the 66th Strategic Missile Squadron marked the beginning of SAC's first Minuteman IB squadron.
As men trained for their new duties, progress continued on the silos being constructed on the South Dakota prairie. The work force peaked in September 1962 as the Peter Kiewit work force reached 2,915 workers. While these men worked out on the prairie, construction proceeded at Ellsworth AFB on converting a hanger for a missile support facility. In April 1963, the first missile was emplaced into a prepared silo. Two months later, SAC accepted the first flight of 10 Minuteman IB ICBMs and in July, some of these missiles were placed on alert status.
The final cost of Minuteman construction around Ellsworth came to just over $75.7 million. This figure for 150 silos is remarkable when contrasted to the $64 million cost of nine Titan I silos. Fewer modifications, simpler design, and improved management all contributed to lower construction costs. During construction there were 62 lost time injuries, including two fatalities. Overall, labor-management relations on this project were good: a total of 244 man-days were lost due to work stoppages. Weather conditions ranging from severe cold to heavy rains also hindered construction.
President Bush's order of September 28, 1991 to remove Minuteman II missiles from alert status profoundly affected Ellsworth. To comply with the pending START I treaty, the Air Force immediately began removing missiles from their silos. Missile removal continued through 1994 when the Air Force began imploding and grading the vacated silos.
In 1986 the base and the 28th Bombardment Wing made extensive preparations to phase out the aging B-52 fleet and become the new home for the advanced B-1B. Contractors gave Ellsworth's 13,497 foot runway a much-needed facelift. In addition, they completed new aircraft maintenance facilities to accommodate the complex new bird. The last 28th Bombardment Wing B-52H left in early 1986. In January 1987, the wing received the first of 35 B-1B bombers.
The 12th Air Division moved to Ellsworth on July 15, 1988. This organization was responsible for training B-1B, transient B-52, and the 28th's KC-135 Stratotanker aircrews. Headquarters Strategic Air Command activated a third wing, the 99th Strategic Weapons Wing, at Ellsworth on Aug. 10, 1989. This wing assumed primary responsibility for B-1B and B-52 advanced aircrew training.
On June 1, 1992, as part of the first major reorganization since the creation of the U.S. Air Force, the Air Force inactivated Strategic Air Command and assigned Ellsworth's organizations (including a renamed 28th Bomb Wing) to the newly-activated Air Combat Command. After less than a year under the new command the 28th's mission changed from that of strategic bombardment to one of worldwide conventional munitions delivery.
During 1994, the Air Force selected Ellsworth as the exclusive location from which to conduct a Congressionally-mandated operational readiness assessment of the B-1B, known locally as "Dakota Challenge." After six months of hard work, under both peacetime and simulated wartime conditions, the 28 BW and Ellsworth proved the B-1 to be a reliable and capable weapons system.
One of the most recognized buildings on Ellsworth AFB is the PRIDE hangar. This landmark embraces the spirit of the base personnel, as the acronym PRIDE stands for Professional Results In Daily Efforts. Construction on the hangar started on 6 July 1947 in preparation for the huge B-36 Peacemaker bombers assignment to then Rapid City Air Force Base. Completed on 24 October 1949, it was reputed to be one of the world's largest monolithic (having no visible internal supports) structures. Its exterior appearance is historic, a reminder of the early cold war era and a period of significant growth for Ellsworth AFB. It was the first hangar constructed away from the base's original North - South operational apron. A new operational apron and flight line developed around the hangar, paralleling the base's Northwest - Southeast runway. The concrete framework that was poured over the skeletal structure is 7 inches thick at the base and 5 inches at the center. There are 13 ribs, each 5 feet high and spaced about 20 feet apart. The ribs, which support the roof, are supported by pedestals that are buried about 2 feet underground. The buildings floor space is 125,649 square feet, large enough for two B-36s or six B-29 Superfortress'.
The PRIDE hangar quickly became the home of the 44th Strategic Missile Wing when they stood-up at Ellsworth AFB on 1 January 1962. The interior resembled a mini-mall; with offices, missile repair area, snack bar, and much more. It served as the "hub" of missile activity until 1994 when the 44th was inactivated.
The 77th Bomb Squadron operates from the hangar now. It is also used for mobility exercises as a staging and processing area. Although its function has changed over the years, this historic structure reminds us of Ellsworth AFB's role as one of America's premier bomber bases.
Secretary of Defense Recommendation: Close Ellsworth Air Force Base, SD. The 24 B-1 aircraft assigned to the 28th Bomb Wing will be distributed to the 7th
Bomb Wing, Dyess Air Force Base, TX. Realign Dyess Air Force Base, TX. The C-130 aircraft assigned to the 317th Airlift
Group will be distributed to the active-duty 314th Airlift Wing (22 aircraft) and Air National Guard 189th Airlift Wing (two
aircraft), Little Rock Air Force Base, AR; the 176th Wing (ANG), Elmendorf Air Force Base, AK (four aircraft); and the
302nd Airlift Wing (AFR), Peterson Air Force Base, CO (four aircraft). Peterson Air Force Base will have an active duty/Air
Force Reserve association in the C-130 mission. Elmendorf Air Force Base will have an active duty/Air National Guard
association in the C-130 mission.
Secretary of Defense Justification: This recommendation consolidates the B-1 fleet at one installation to achieve operational efficiencies. Ellsworth (39) ranked
lower in military value for the bomber mission than Dyess (20). To create an efficient, single-mission operation at Dyess, the
Air Force realigned the tenant C-130s from Dyess to other Air Force installations. The majority of these aircraft went to Little Rock (17-airlift), which enables consolidation of the active-duty C-130 fleet into one stateside location at Little Rock,
and strengthens the Air National Guard squadron to facilitate an active duty association with the Guard unit. The other C-
130s at Dyess were distributed to Elmendorf (51-airlift) and Peterson (30-airlift) to facilitate active duty associations with the
Guard and Reserve units at these installations.
Community Concerns: The Rapid City, SD, community criticized DoD's proposal on the grounds of national security, military value, cost, and
economic impact. Representatives believe consolidating all B-1 bombers at one base poses significant security threats because
a single accident or attack could wipe out or delay a major weapons platform. The community questioned DoD's military
value criteria and selection process because Ellsworth scored higher than Dyess in three of four criteria. The one lower score,
in the most heavily weighted criteria, was inaccurate according to the community because it did not reflect Ellsworth's
proximity to low-level flying routes or mission supporting airspace. Further, representatives contended that operating the
entire B-1 fleet at one base was inherently inefficient and would exceed the cost of maintaining two separate bases. They also
questioned why Ellsworth was not considered for a tanker mission backfill when it ranked fifth for the tanker MCI score out
of all Air Force bases evaluated - far higher than many other bases receiving tankers under DoD's proposal. Finally, the
community asserted closure would have a very significant economic impact.
Commission Findings: The Commission found that Ellsworth is an outstanding installation. It has vast unencroached air space, is sparsely populated and has diverse terrain.
In reviewing DoD comparative military value scoring methodology for airspace and airspace training ranges the Commission
found that the methodology was fairly and consistently applied, but it was narrowly focused and did not consider range
utilization and the value of a range to specific aircraft. Because of this, the Commission found that Ellsworth's airspace
training range was more valuable than identified in the scoring methodology.
The Commission found that consolidating the B-1 fleet would reduce the number of bomber bases from five to four. The
Commission found that the closure of Ellsworth would not result in a savings, but a cost. A significant portion of Ellsworth
savings are tied to military personnel savings, but those savings would not be realized since efficiencies gained by the
consolidation would not occur because the Air Force planned to use those positions for other missions, thereby negating
savings and adding costs to move them.
Commission Recommendations: The Commission found that the Secretary of Defense deviated substantially from final selection criteria 1, 2, 3, 5 and 6, and the Force Structure Plan. Therefore, the Commission has rejected the recommendation of the Secretary.
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