RAF Mildenhall will close as part of sweeping European reorganisations, the US Defense Secretary has confirmed.
Operations at the USAF base, home to 3,200 military personnel, will be moved to other locations including Germany.
Meanwhile, two squadrons of F-35 Joint Strike Fighters are to be stationed at RAF Lakenheath from 2020, with the expected addition of 1,200 troops.
US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel confirmed this afternoon that RAF Mildenhall, Alconbury and Molesworth are all set to close.
A USAF spokesman said: “The European Infrastructure Consolidation process is still ongoing. The Secretary has approved recommendations he intends to move forward with, and the department is now coordinating efforts to finalize an execution strategy.
“This infrastructure consolidation will not affect our operational capabilities. The United States remains fully committed to European security and continued cooperation with our European Allies and partners in meeting our shared global interests.
“We understand the impact this process can have on our host nations, and the communities surrounding our installations, and will endeavour to keep them informed.”
West Suffolk MP Matthew Hancock announced today he will chair a Mildenhall, Alconbury and Molesworth (MAM) Working Group, collaborating with local councils, businesses, the Ministry of Defence and US representatives to ensure ‘no stone is left unturned in supporting Mildenhall and the surrounding area’.
Mr Hancock said: “Mildenhall has a long and proud history of strong relations with the United States Air Force. With this deep history in mind news of the proposed closure of Mildenhall will come as a shock to many.
“I will do everything in my power to support those affected, and to make sure that Mildenhall gets the support it needs to adjust.”
Leader of Forest Heath District Council James Waters said: “If these reports turn out to be true, then clearly it would mean huge changes for Forest Heath – but I firmly believe that every change brings opportunities and I would be optimistic that, given the strengths and resilience of our local community and West Suffolk, we can work with our partners to ensure we do the very best for people in Forest Heath and make the most of any new opportunities.
“We have done quite a lot of work to better understand what both RAF Mildenhall and Lakenheath provide for the local economy, so we would not be on the back foot.”
Mildenhall Parish Council chairman John Bloodworth said: “It will have a devastating effect on Mildenhall, on employment, the economy and our schools. It is a very sad day for the town.”
Mildenhall parish councillor John Barker said: “The whole area is very much geared towards RAF Mildenhall and its employees using our facilities.
“To lose it will have a very important impact on the economic and social life of the town.”
UK Eastern Region MEP Richard Howitt said: “I am saddened by the RAF Mildenhall, Alconbury and Molesworth closures being announced today and have always appreciated the courtesy of USAF personnel.”
US military news website Stars and Stripes reported that RAF Mildenhall’s assigned KC-135s and the 352nd Special Operations Wing will move to Germany and the assigned RC-135s will be relocated in the U.K.
Moreton Hall-based freelance aviation journalist, Robert Archer, said his ‘gut instinct’ is that the 100th Air Refuelling Wing, the only permanent Wing of its kind in Europe, will relocate to Spangdahlem Air Base, in Germany.
“It’s a great big air base with lots of parking spaces and they could put them in there reasonably comfortably,” he said.
Mr Archer believes the base’s 95th Reconnaissance Squadron will stay in the UK, possibly relocationg to RAF Waddington, while the 501st Combat Support Wing (CSW) may be absorbed into another Wing overseas.
He added: “Nothing is going to happen here in a hurry - it will probably be over the course of two to three years. It’s going to have a terrific impact on jobs though, and the value of the locality.”
The Pentagon expects to save $500 million a year from the consolidations, which have allegedly been under review for more than a year.
Facilities in Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, Italy and Portugal are also set to close.