The U.S. Department of Defense (DoD), on Thursday, announced the first F-35 base in Europe at the Royal Air Force (RAF) station Lakenheath in the UK. The DoD also said that a “considered and deliberative process” was behind RAF Lakenheath’s selection as the first European base for its F-35 fighter jets.
The placement of two operational squadrons of U.S. Air Force F-35 Lightning II joint strike fighter jets will lead to more collaboration, training and support opportunities between the U.S. and the UK, the DoD said, adding that the first F-35 aircraft is scheduled to arrive at RAF Lakenheath in 2020.
The F-35 is a single-seat, single-engine advanced fighter plane combining air-to-ground and air-to-air operational capability with stealth technology. The aircraft also includes “fully fused sensor information, network-enabled operations and advanced sustainment,” Lockheed Martin, the plane’s manufacturer, said on its website.
The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter Program costs about $400 billion, which is largely funded by the U.S. According to Lockheed Martin, the U.S. government plans to buy 2,443 F-35 jets while 10 allied nations will purchase 721 of the planes, Ria Novosti reported, citing the defense contractor.
The announcement of the first F-35 base in Europe comes at a time when the DoD also announced that U.S. armed forces would no longer use 15 military bases across Europe. The department said that the U.S. Air Force will close operations at RAF Mildenhall in Suffolk, and RAF Alconbury and RAF Molesworth in Cambridgeshire.
“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,” according to a DoD press release. “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.”