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 even at 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, AFGSC’s 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 Integration and System Management Office is co-located with the B-21 Program Office at the Department of the Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office to ensure tight collaboration between warfighter and acquisition teams working together to field the B-21.
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.
“We will collect a few years of data on these shelters and then incorporate that data into the final Environmental Protection Shelter design,” Oakley said.
Oakley further explained the shelters will complement, not replace, maintenance hangars expected at each MOB.
“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 flightline,” he said.
The B-21 was designed with sustainment and maintainability as a top priority.
“From the outset, we codified robust sustainability and maintainability requirements, and continue to keep those at the forefront throughout the design and development phase of the B-21 Raider program,” said Col. Jason Voorheis, B-21 System Program director and acquisition lead for the bomber program within the Department of the Air Force RCO. “Throughout the engineering and manufacturing development phase, sustainment and maintenance personnel have been integrated into every design decision we make to ensure technical solutions do not inadvertently result in sub-optimal sustainment outcomes once the weapon system is fielded.”
Beyond the prototype Environmental Protection Shelters activities, the Air Force also continues to prepare for the broader military construction requirements associated with B-21 beddown. New facilities to operate and sustain a low observable bomber will have to be built at the three planned B-21 MOBs as well as the depot. 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 MOBs. 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 MOB; construction for permanent facilities will start after the secretary of the Air Force makes this decision. The temporary prototype Environmental Protection Shelters are a Research, Development, Test and Evaluation, activity that has commenced already.
Ellsworth AFB is the preferred location for the first B-21 MOB with Dyess AFB as a reasonable alternative. A second NEPA process, which will begin no later than 2022, will consider the location and order of the remaining MOBs.