RAPID CITY, S.D. (KOTA TV) - As President Donald Trump vows to increase military spending by $52 billion, the Department of Defense once again floats the idea of another round of military base closures.
Ellsworth Air Force Base – rumored to be on the 1995 closure list and until the last minute on the 2005 roster – could once again be targeted.
“The Department of Defense continues to claim they have too much infrastructure for their funding. So whether it is the Navy, the Army or the Air Force, across all boards they say they have excess infrastructure and they say they need to cut somewhere,” Scott Landguth, executive director of the Ellsworth Development authority, said.
The DOD estimates that it has 20 percent excess infrastructure; 35 percent for the Air Force.
Even so, it is anyone’s guess if Congress will agree on another BRAC.
“The appetite for it doesn’t seem to be quite there, yet; even though the Trump administration continues to propose a BRAC round just as the Obama administration had,” Landguth explained.
It has been 12 years since Ellsworth Air Force Base survived the BRAC process.
At that time, the Air Force told the BRAC commission the base should be closed but in a final hearing failed to convince them.
The BRAC commission, as well as the Government Accountability Office in a later study, determined the DOD’s closure criteria was flawed when it came to Ellsworth Air Force Base.
Still, the Ellsworth Development Authority has been quietly shoring up vulnerable areas to keep the base from returning to a BRAC list.
“Currently we’ve had about 60 acquisitions around the base. The base went from being roughly 40 percent with incompatible land. As of last week, we are 99 percent compatible, the use around the base,” Landguth said.
Besides halting encroachment on flight safety areas around the base, the addition of the Reaper combat mission and massive expansion of the Powder River Training Complex could also help Ellsworth survive another BRAC.
The next-generation bomber could also figure into Ellsworth’s future, although the military still hasn’t determined where the B-21 Raider will be based. Site surveys for that are not expected to happen until 2019 and the estimated 80 to 100 bombers won’t be in service until the mid-2020s.
“We hope that we’re competitive for that next-generation bomber,” Landguth said. “We’ve obviously proven we’re an excellent home for bombers so we hope that in the future the Air Force will see our merits and will deem it appropriate to place that bomber here as well.”
Then there is another aspect of BRAC that might work in Ellsworth’s favor: realignment.
“The excess infrastructure also is a positive thing because part of the BRAC, a base realignment and closure, is realignment,” Landguth said. “So if you have excess property there’s bases that gain; gain missions, gain personnel. So if we continue to make improvements, continue to again, make sure South Dakota is a great place for the Air Force to conduct its mission we’ll hope that we’ll be on the gaining side if there is a BRAC in the future.”
If not, western South Dakota would take a hefty economic hit. According to the Air Force report to the 2005 BRAC commission, closure of Ellsworth would have cost the community 6,768 jobs.