Royal Air Force (RAF) base Lakenheath will be home to the first two US Air Force (USAF) F-35 squadrons in Europe with the first aircraft set to arrive in 2020.
The announcement is part of the US government’s review into the American military footprint across Europe, the United Kingdom Ministry of Defence said.
The basing of US F-35s at RAF Lakenheath confirms the American military presence in the UK for the foreseeable future. It also means for the first time in decades UAF and the RAF will have operated the same type of aircraft from the UK.
The US has also decided to end its presence at nearby RAF Mildenhall. The precise timing for their final withdrawal has still to be determined, but it is expected to correspond with the period in which the US plans to increase its presence at the adjacent RAF Lakenheath.
Defence Secretary Michael Fallon said the announcement was a vote of confidence in the UK adding the decision to base the F-35s at Lakenheath reflected the closeness of the UK/US partnership as well as the American commitment to NATO and Europe.
“The US decision to drawdown its presence at RAF Mildenhall is disappointing. However, we recognise that in these challenging times of austerity, the US is not immune to the need to make efficiency savings across US Defence,” he said.
“The UK is an extraordinary ally and supportive host to US forces. Our decision to base US Air Force F-35s at Lakenheath is a testament to that special relationship and a sign of the decades of co-operation to come,”
was how US Assistant Defence Secretary, Derek Chollet responded to the announcement.
The basing of the USAF F-35 squadrons in proximity to the RAF’s F-35 Lightning II jets – to be based at RAF Marham in Norfolk – will allow for both forces to work even more closely together.
The build-up of US capabilities and subsequent increased investment at RAF Lakenheath is welcome as it will lessen the impact of the base consolidation decisions also being announced by the Department of Defence this month. However, investments the US is making at RAF Lakenheath and the advance notice given, will reduce any local impact of the Mildenhall drawdown.
Additionally, the US facilities at Alconbury and Molesworth will be returned to the MOD, with associated US roles and missions being completed within a single facility at RAF Croughton.