US selects RAF Lakenheath in UK as first European base for F-35A fighter aircraft
The US Department of Defense (DoD) has selected Royal Air Force (RAF) Lakenheath in the UK as the first permanent European base for its F-35A Lightning II joint strike fighter aircraft.
Located in Suffolk, RAF Lakenheath will host two US fighter squadrons, each with 24 fighters.
The first F-35A jet aircraft are due for delivery in 2020.
The UK F-35 Lightning II jets are scheduled to be based at RAF Marham in Norfolk, in close proximity to RAF Lakenheath, which will enable the two air forces to work even closely together.
US Air Force 48th Fighter Wing commander colonel Robert Novotny said: "From the beginning, the US and the UK have been side-by-side on F-35 programme development.
"This is about continuing to work together with our allies and partners to ensure a secure future for Europe."
UK Defence Secretary Michael Fallon said: "It is an indication of the strength of our continuing shared commitment to transatlantic security."
However, the US has decided to end its presence at RAF Mildenhall and four supported sites, withdrawing around 3,200 of its personnel when increases its presence at RAF Lakenheath.
The base's assigned KC-135s and the 352nd Special Operations Wing will be transferred to Germany, while the RC-135s will be relocated in the UK.
In addition, the US facilities at Alconbury and Molesworth will be returned to the UK Ministry of Defence (MoD), with associated US roles and missions being completed within a single facility at RAF Croughton in Northamptonshire.
In total, the US plans to close 15 of its European installations, located in Germany, Belgium, Italy, Portugal and the Netherlands, as well as the UK, during the next several years.
The proposed closures form part of the European Infrastructure Consolidation (EIC) process, which is expected to bring approximately $500m in annual savings to the government.
US Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel said: "In the end, this transformation of our infrastructure will help maximise our military capabilities in Europe and help strengthen our important European partnerships, so that we can best support our Nato allies and partners in the region."
Image: A US F-35 Lightning II joint strike fighter test aircraft undergoes flight testing over Fort Worth in Texas, US. Photo: courtesy of Liz Kaszynski.