SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) — B-1 bombers from Ellsworth Air Force Base in South Dakota and Dyess Air Force Base in Texas are joining their long-range B-2 and B-52 bomber counterparts under a single Air Force command as part of a leadership shift announced Monday.
The Air Force is grouping its bombers under Air Force Global Strike Command, a nuclear-capable command based at Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana, in a transition that will be effective Oct. 1. The leadership change also puts the Air Force's next-generation bomber program, frequently called the Long Range Strike Bomber, under the same auspices.
"With a single command responsible for the Air Force's entire long-range strike fleet, the airmen ... will benefit from better coordination and increased sharing of expertise across the five bomber wings," Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Welsh III said in a statement.
More than 60 aircraft and about 7,000 people will shift from Air Combat Command to Global Strike Command, according to the Air Force. South Dakota public officials celebrated the shift as proof of Ellsworth's relevancy in the nation's defense.
"Ellsworth continues to demonstrate its readiness to support a wide range of Air Force priorities," South Dakota Gov. Dennis Daugaard said in a statement to The Associated Press.
A spokesman for Texas U.S. Rep. Randy Neugebauer, whose district includes Dyess, didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.
The new leadership alignment also comes as a "clear signal" that Ellsworth is well-positioned to secure the Air Force's proposed next-generation bomber when it is produced, South Dakota U.S. Sen. John Thune said in a statement.
Mark Gunzinger, a senior fellow at the Washington-based Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, said Ellsworth's proximity to a large training airspace and relatively light surrounding air traffic mean the base would be a strong candidate for the new bomber.
The next-generation bomber is expected to arrive in the early or mid-2020s and will likely eventually replace older bombers when they are phased out.
"I wouldn't be surprised if the Air Force looked at (Ellsworth) hard and long," said Gunzinger, a former deputy assistant secretary of defense.
Thune said that moving all the bomber wings under the control of Global Strike Command will make for a better transition as the Air Force plans for the Long Range Strike Bomber.
The B-1 bombers from Ellsworth and Dyess, near Abilene, Texas, will join B-52 bombers from Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota, among others, as part of Global Strike Command. The Air Force said the leadership change is expected to be "imperceptible" to most of the airmen on the bases.
"Consolidating all of our Air Force assets in this critical mission area under a single command will help provide a unified voice to maintain the high standards necessary in stewardship of our nation's bomber forces," Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James said in a statement.