Construction on infrastructure projects has commenced to prepare British Royal Air Force (RAF) Lakenheath for the arrival of the first US Air Force (USAF) F-35A Lightning II aircraft in 2021.

The UK Defence Infrastructure Organisation (DIO), the Kier VolkerFitzpatrick joint venture, and USAF’s 48th Fighter Wing marked the start of construction with a groundbreaking ceremony.

Infrastructure to be built at the airbase will include a flight simulator facility, a maintenance unit, new hangars and storage facilities.

RAF Lakenheath will become the first permanent international site in Europe for the USAF F-35 aircraft. The site will accommodate two USAF F-35 squadrons.

USAF 48th Fighter Wing Commander colonel William Marshall said: “This ceremony is an exciting milestone for the Liberty Wing as we prepare this installation to welcome two squadrons of F-35A Lighting II aircraft and supporting personnel.

“Breaking ground on this project takes us one step closer to becoming a more lethal and ready force as US Air Forces in Europe and Air Forces Africa’s premier combat wing.”

In November, DIO awarded a £160m contract to a JV between Kier and VolkerFitzpatrick to deliver infrastructure at RAF Lakenheath.

The infrastructure project is part of plans to invest $1bn in the UK over the next seven to ten years to support USAF operations.

During the peak construction phase, the project will involve up to 700 people on site.

In March, Kier-VolkerFitzpatrick began demolition work at the Suffolk airbase as part of the project.

Work involved the demolition of 18 buildings. Contractors have reused construction materials from the demolished buildings to undertake supporting infrastructure work on site.

The flight simulator at the airbase will enable US and UK pilots to conduct joint training exercises.