Tinker Air Force Base to be home for maintenance of new stealth bomber
U.S. Air Force officials have selected Tinker Air Force Base to provide maintenance for the B-21 Raider once the bomber comes online in the mid 2020s, Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson announced Friday.
The long-range stealth bomber is intended to replace the Air Force's aging B-1 Lancer and B-2 Spirit bombers. Officials don't expect to retire the existing bombers until the Air Force has enough B-21s to replace them.
During a Friday news conference, Wilson said Tinker's experience maintaining large aircraft made the base a good fit for the mission.
The base's Air Force Sustainment Center provides maintenance for a wide range of aircraft, including the B-1. The center has also been designated as the maintenance site for the KC-46A Pegasus once the tanker begins flying.
Wilson said the Air Force hasn't determined how many jobs the new mission might create, but she expects it to be comparable to the KC-46A mission, which created about 1,350 jobs at the base. Wilson said she expected the base would need to expand its maintenance facilities to accommodate the new mission, although base officials have no plans to do so.
The B-21 is designed to have more advanced stealth capability than its predecessors, allowing it to penetrate more sophisticated air defenses. During Friday's news conference, Wilson said the bomber is a part of "a bow wave of modernization" the Air Force will undergo over the next decade, including new tankers, fighter jets, bombers and space assets.
In a statement, U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said the B-21 mission will solidify Tinker's role for years to come.
“Tinker has proven once again that innovation and experience — plus a supportive military community — pays dividends,” said Inhofe, a Tulsa Republican.
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“Having the B-21 sustainment at Tinker Air Force Base puts Oklahoma at the forefront of the next generation of military aircraft and solidifies Tinker's rightful place as the nation's premier air logistics facility. This is an honor for Oklahoma and a true testament to the hard work and dedication of our Airmen.”
Air Force officials also announced on Friday that Edwards Air Force base in California has been designated as the site for testing and evaluation of the aircraft.
In May, officials announced that three bases — Dyess Air Force Base in Texas, Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri and Ellsworth Air Force Base in South Dakota — were selected as reasonable alternatives to host the bomber. Air Force officials expect to make a final basing decision sometime next year.