South Dakota's vulnerable junior senator, Republican John Thune commiserated with donors over Ellsworth Air Force Base's likely loss of B-1B bombers and believes that expanding the Powder River Training Complex would help secure the future of the base.
Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh met with the service's top brass during a weeklong conference at the Air Force Academy that ended Saturday. Facing $1 trillion in Pentagon budget cuts over a decade, he wants the tools used by corporate America to weather the downturn. Bases haven't been examined since a Base Realignment and Closure round in 2005, and Welsh is joining a chorus of Pentagon brass who want to cut real estate. The military doesn't have a 2014 budget to work with, instead functioning on the same funding program used in 2013 under a stop-gap bill to end the government shutdown. [Tom Roeder, The Colorado Springs Gazette]Another incident in the Powder River Training Complex in southeastern Montana grounded operations at Ellsworth. Accidents have plagued the aircraft:
Back in 1997, [a B-1B attached to] the 28th Bomb Wing of the 37th Bomb Squadron from Ellsworth crashed in Alzada, Montana. That is in the same county as Monday's crash. Unfortunately, in that crash the four crew members lost their lives. One year later, in 1998, the same Bomb Wing crashed into the Indian Ocean on its way to a combat mission in Afghanistan. Those four crew members survived and were rescued by a Navy ship in the area. [Sammi Bjelland, KELO]Snipped from the Black Hills Pioneer:
On Dec. 12, 2001, a B-1 crashed into the Indian Ocean near the island of Diego Garcia. A cause has never been determined. The crew had reported having difficulty controlling the bomber. All four crewmen ejected safely, including the pilot and co-pilot, who were from Ellsworth. The aircraft was destroyed.From a piece by the AP's Dirk Lammers in the Great Falls Tribune:
In April 2008, an Ellsworth B-1B bomber caught fire after landing at al-Udeid Air Base in Qatar. The crew members all escaped safely. A month earlier, an Ellsworth B-1B collided with two emergency-response vehicles during landing after reporting an in-flight emergency at Andersen Air Force Base in Guam.RT @CharlesSDPB: "Ellsworth Officials: on average it costs over $14,000 per hour in fuel alone to fly a B1 Bomber. In total a B1 costs an average of over $43,000 dollars/hour to fly. But some worry cutbacks come as N. Korea heats up."
Recall this from Tom Lutey's piece in the Billings Gazette:
Ellsworth Air Force Base officials say plans for a South Carolina-sized training area over portions of four western states are moving ahead. A key piece of the approval process, a final environmental impact statement, has not been finalized. Spokesman Maj. Matthew Reese said the EIS is out of Ellsworth’s hands. The base has moved on to arranging meetings with state and tribal governments in Montana, Wyoming, North Dakota and South Dakota.
There were numerous concerns when the Air Force held public hearings about the 27,500-square-mile Powder River Training Complex in 2009. Two years ago, U.S. Sens. Max Baucus and Jon Tester, D-Mont., asked the Air Force not to expand the PRTC into southeastern Montana.After the 1997 crash of a B-1 in Carter County a responding volunteer firefighter from Alzada told this interested party the multi-million dollar aircraft was brought down by a rancher with a .30-30 Winchester.
Maj. Gen. Michael Carey, an important figure in national security and commander of the 20th Air Force and based at F.E. Warren Air Force Base in Cheyenne, Wyoming was recently fired. Overall, Carey was responsible for three wings of U.S. intercontinental ballistic missiles: 9,600 people and 450 missiles in all. Several Air Force intercontinental ballistic missile units have drawn increased scrutiny lately: in August the Inspector General gave a failing grade to the 341st Missile Wing based at Malmstrom Air Force Base in Montana and a March inspection led the Air Force to decertify some members of the 91st Missile Wing based at Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota.
It's time for endangered sage grouse to get a reprieve from extirpation: close this training range and convert Ellsworth to a fire-fighting tanker base.