ABILENE, Texas (KTAB/KRBC) – It’s nearly official. Dyess Air Force Base is set be the home for the stealthy new B-21 aircraft, pending Congressional approval.
The Air Force made the announcement Monday after months of speculation.
“As part of our decisions presented in the FY19 President’s Budget, the Air Force will update the B-52 bomber fleet and fund development of replacement engines,” said Secretary of the Air Force Heather A. Wilson. “We will also continue necessary B-1 and B-2 modifications to keep them relevant until the B-21s come online.
Big Country Congressman Jodey Arrington said he is cautiously optimistic about the B-21 coming to Dyess. He said he is completely confident but wanted to make sure it was in writing.
"There is a high probability we will base the B-21 at Dyess," Arrington said. "Until the Secretary (of the Air Force) signs the National Record that says we're going to get it and the B-21 will be based at Dyess, I don't want to jump to that conclusion."
Senator John Cornyn praised the airmen at Dyess.
“The exceptional airmen at Dyess have proven their ability time and again to produce combat-ready crews, and this will help them to further enhance Air Force readiness,” said Sen. Cornyn. “The fleet of B-21 Raiders will benefit not just the Abilene community, but also our national security for decades to come.”
“If the force structure we have proposed is supported by the Congress, bases that have bombers now will have bombers in the future,” Wilson said. “They will be B-52s and B-21s.”
Since Dyess currently has the B-1 bomber, that means it will have a bomber in the future.
“This is great news for Dyess Air Force Base and Abilene,” said Abilene Chamber of Commerce Military Affairs Committee (MAC) Chair Gray Bridwell. “By having the B-21 bomber based here, we help secure Dyess' future for a long time.”
Also announced was the earlier than anticipated retirement of the B-1, currently based at Dyess.
“The transition from the B-1 to the B-21 will be gradual,” Bridwell said. “We are many years away from the first B-21s. The Air Force has said the new weapons system should be expected in the mid-2020s.
“Abilene looks forward to having Dyess continue to be a B-1 base until this highly-capable bomber is retired,” Bridwell said.
"Modernizing and recapitalizing our bomber force is absolutely central to the recently released National Defense Strategy and the Nuclear Posture Review," said Chief of Staff of the Air Force Gen. David L. Goldfein. "Our bomber force allows the commander in chief to hold targets at risk anywhere on the globe with unparalleled range and our most diverse payloads."
MAC members, along with civic leaders and Big Country Congressman Jodey Arrington worked to promote Dyess as the best base for the B-21.
In November, Abilene won the first Barksdale Trophy, in recognition of its support of Dyess.
“The partnership with Dyess goes back to 1953 with donated land to form Dyess AFB and the passion has grown stronger every day,” Bridwell said back in November. “Abilene understands the Dyess mission, loves its airmen, and embraces the families at Dyess. History makes us smarter, heritage makes us proud.”
In September, Rep. Mac Thornberry, Chairman of the Armed Services Committee, visited Dyess, along with Rep. Arrington.
“He (Thornberry) was very impressed by the community and the folks at Dyess,” Arrington said.
Arrington all but confirmed the news in recent interview with KTAB/KRBC.
“All my discussions with the top brass at the Air Force have been very positive and I would say very forward-leaning about the B-21 being based here at Dyess,” Arrington said during an Abilene visit on Jan. 23, 2018.
The MAC was pushing Dyess as already being ready to house a bomber, since it already has the B-1.
“We have proven to be a very successful schoolhouse for the B-1, with our exceptional West Texas weather, close proximity to training routes, and un-congested airspace,” Bridwell said. “Dyess is a perfect home to the B-21 and potential B-21 training facility.”
Former Dyess Wing Commander Col. Michael Bob Starr said in Sept. 2017 that Dyess’ global extensions help qualify it to continue having a bomber.
“Of all the military installations in Texas, the only one where we can fight our nation’s enemies from Texas soil, is Dyess Air Force Base, because we have that bombing mission and I think that’s important,” Starr said.
According to the MAC, Dyess AFB has a more than $1 million impact on the Abilene region every day.
“This is a time for us to celebrate as one community -- Team Dyess,” Bridwell added.
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