The US Department of Defence has today announced the outcome of a review of its requirement for bases for US forces in Europe. These decisions reflect the impact of force structure changes, the changing security environment, advances in technology and the fiscal climate.
I am delighted to inform the House that, following consultations between the two Governments, the US has decided that RAF Lakenheath in Suffolk will be the first location in Europe to host its F-35 aircraft, a decision that reflects the closeness of the UK/US defence relationship. Two squadrons of US F-35 aircraft will be based there, with the first aircraft scheduled to arrive in 2020. Their relative proximity to the RAF’s F-35 Lightning II aircraft—to be based at RAF Marham in Norfolk—paves the way for continued close collaboration between our respective forces. In particular, it offers further opportunities for the UK and US air forces to work and train together, including simulator training where the UK has made a significant investment.
Elsewhere, the US has decided to withdraw from its base at RAF Mildenhall—adjacent to RAF Lakenheath—and to consolidate at RAF Croughton in Northamptonshire its activities at RAF Alconbury and RAF Molesworth. The precise timing is not yet determined; withdrawal from RAF Mildenhall is unlikely to begin until 2019. The US presence at RAF Fairford, Menwith Hill and other sites is not affected by this review.
The end of US basing at Mildenhall, Alconbury and Molesworth is disappointing, not least to the communities of which US forces have been a part for so long. However, the advance notice the US has given us, coupled with the investment it is making at RAF Lakenheath and RAF Croughton, will help mitigate the local impact. The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills will convene the Mildenhall, Alconbury and Molesworth (MAM) Working Group that brings together the local authorities, the local enterprise partnerships, BIS Local, the Ministry of Defence and other key stakeholders to agree how we manage this at local level.
When the US plans mature, we will start a period of formal trades union consultation and affected MOD civil servants will be provided with appropriate advice and support to make decisions about their future.
The US also employs other UK personnel directly, outside the civil service. My Department will work closely with the US and local partners to manage the impact of any job losses, via the Jobcentre Plus rapid response service, the Skills Funding Agency and where appropriate, the talent retention solution.
US Forces have been based in the UK for over 50 years. These decisions confirm their presence here until the 2050s. Basing their latest generation of aircraft in the UK underlines the US commitment to NATO and Europe and the strength of our bilateral defence relationship.