Breaking News and Analysis: Joint Strike Fighter will “likely” be based at RAF Marham

PUBLISHED: 16:00 19 July 2012 | UPDATED: 17:02 19 July 2012

A Lightning II, which is almost certain to be based at Marham in Norfolk

A Lightning II, which is almost certain to be based at Marham in Norfolk

Defence secretary Philip Hammond has said it is “likely” that the British military’s new Joint Strike Fighter aircraft will be based at RAF Marham in Norfolk.

Norfolk made it Marham

Exactly year ago today, the EDP broke the news that Norfolk’s campaign to Make it Marham had saved the county’s last flying RAF base.

But success came with a slight caveat. For while the announcement that the base would continue to be home to three Tornado squadrons meant thousands of jobs would remain in Norfolk, the Tornado itself was nearing the end of its operational life span.

Today’s revelation that the Joint Strike Fighter is coming to Norfolk almost certainly means that Marham’s future is secure for decades.

The arguments have always stacked up for the base, both strategically and economically. In December 2010, a delegation from Norfolk handed in a 36,000-signature petition to Downing Street, calling for the base to be saved.

A few weeks later, Tornado jets from Marham were in the skies just hours after world leaders agreed to the use of force to safeguard Libyan civilians from Col Gaddafi’s crumbling regime.

While the conflict was still raging, defence chiefs announced that Marham-based XIII Sqdn would be one of two fast jet squadrons which would be disbanded as part of the strategic defence review.

As all three armed services braced themselves for cuts which would see warships mothballed, the Harrier jump jet and Nimrod reconnaissance aircraft grounded and regiments scrapped, Norfolk waited for news.

Marham contributes 5,000 jobs and an estimated £130m a year to the region’s economy. As well as providing a home to fast jet squadrons like XI (B) and II (AC), it is also home to the civilian contractors who carry out highly-specialised maintenance on the aircraft - re-located to Marham, not so long ago, at a cost of millions.

Before the final announcement was made, ministers admitted it would not make sense to move it lock stock and barrel to Lossiemouth, in Scotland, which was Marham’s main rival to become the Tornado force’s main home.

He made the comments while at Fort Worth, in Texas, where he was taking delivery of the first jet, to be known as ‘Lightening II’, ordered by the UK government.

However, he added that no final decision had yet been made. Meanwhile a Ministry of Defence spokesman confirmed that an official basing review on the issue still needed to be completed.

Mr Hammond continued: “This hugely capable combat aircraft is now officially British and in the hands of our expert pilots.

“Highly skilled British aerospace workers are also playing a vital role in the delivery of Lightning II with UK companies involved in 15pc of the production and 25,000 British jobs sustained as a result.”

The planes will operate from Royal Navy aircraft carriers, but will also have a land base which now appears likely to be Marham.

The Norfolk base was competing with RAF Lossiemouth in Scotland to become the new jets’ home.

But hopes were raised at Marham after defence minister Nick Harvey said in the House of Commons earlier this week that Lossiemouth would “not be practical” as an option.

Royal Navy fleet commander admiral Sir George Zambellas said today: “Jets at sea offer unmatched persistence and can guarantee the delivery of airpower around the globe.

“With the advent of Lightning II, UK defence has its opportunity to maximise the utility of our carriers and this extraordinarily capable aircraft through a range of sea and land basing options.

“The result will be a strategic capability which will deliver for many decades to come.”

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