Two operational squadrons of U.S. Air Force F-35 Lightning II joint strike fighter jets will be permanently stationed at the Royal Air Force Lakenheath facility in the United Kingdom starting in 2020, Defense Department officials announced today.
A considered and deliberative process led to RAF Lakenheath’s selection as the first European base for U.S. F-35s, DoD officials said.
“This decision is just the latest example of the special relationship between the United States and the United Kingdom,” Derek Chollet, assistant secretary of defense for international affairs, said today. “The presence of U.S. F-35s at Lakenheath will lead to new possibilities for collaboration with the United Kingdom, such as the potential for greater training and wider support opportunities.”
The announcement was made at the same time officials released the department’s plans for European Infrastructure Consolidation, a two-year effort designed to ensure long-term efficiency and effectiveness of the U.S. presence in Europe.
Enhancing Readiness With Reduced Funding
The EIC calls for the return of 15 sites to their host nations in Europe. Divestiture of RAF Mildenhall represents the largest reduction in U.S. personnel among the sites, but it will also pave the way for the F-35 units at RAF Lakenheath, Pentagon officials said. DoD officials expect a net decrease of roughly 2,000 U.S. service members and civilians in the United Kingdom over the next several years.
About 3,200 Americans will be relocated from RAF Mildenhall, and that will be offset by the addition of about 1,200 personnel who will be permanently assigned to the F-35 squadrons at Lakenheath, officials noted.
“Taken together, these decisions on our force presence in Europe will enhance our operational readiness and mission posture at reduced funding levels, all toward the objective of maintaining a strong transatlantic alliance and meeting our common security interests,” Chollet said.
(Follow Tech. Sgt. Jake Richmond on Twitter: @RichmondDoDNews)