USAF launches construction of first permanent F-35 base in Europe
Representatives of the United States Air Force and of the British Ministry of Defence symbolically broke ground to mark the beginning of the construction of a new F-35 Lightning II infrastructure at RAF Lakenheath, east of England.
It is the first permanent base for the F-35 to be built in Europe. The installation, valued at $196 million, will include a flight simulator facility, a maintenance unit, new hangars and storage facilities to accommodate the F-35A Lightning II. It should be ready for two new squadrons in late 2021.
The squadrons will belong to the 48th Fighter Wing, part of the United States Air Forces in Europe ‒ Air Forces Africa (USAFE-AFAFRICA) major command. The Wing currently has three squadrons of F-15E and F-15C/D from RAF Lakenheath. Eventually, the campus should house an additional 1,200 U.S. soldiers out of 9,900 stationed in the British Isles. The choice of Lakenheath may have been motivated by the presence of another Royal Air Force base in Marham, 40 km away, where most of the British F-35 fighter jets should be based.
On July 17, 2019, U.S. Air Force F-35 Lightning II fighter jets of the 388th Fighter Wing and Reserve 419th FW at Hill Air Force Base arrived at Marham to participate in bilateral training with the Royal Air Force. The U.S. F-35 aircraft will conduct interoperability training with their RAF counterparts in order to allow “U.S. forces to improve readiness and familiarize aircrews with the European theater”, said the USAFE-AFAFRICA in a press release.
Over the next 7 to 10 years, more than $1 billion will be invested in the UK to support USAF operations. Similar facilities should also be opened in Belgium, in the bases of Flannes and Kleine Brogel, by 2023.
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