The US defense secretary has been pressed by a Norfolk MP to reveal where America intends to house its next generation of hi-tech military jets – something which could prove crucial in ensuring RAF Marham’s future.

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South West Norfolk MP Elizabeth Truss met Leon Panetta in parliament to discuss the future basing of the Joint Strike Fighter jet.

If the US opts to house its JSF jets at RAF Lakenheath, Ms Truss believes it would pave the way for the British military chiefs to decide to house its JSF aircraft at nearby RAF Marham.

The EDP has been campaigning for Marham to be designated for the JSF role as it would secure the base’s future and boost Norfolk’s economy.

Speaking after the meeting, the Conservative MP said: “The US defense secretary acknowledged Britain’s commitment to the JSF but was not in a position to say where the US aircraft will eventually be based.

“However he recognised the excellent collaborative work we have been doing to move the programme forward and said that the planes have been testing very well.

“I feel the meeting was extremely helpful and he is now fully appraised of the excellent expertise, technical know-how, and superb strategic positioning that RAF Marham has, being so close to the US bases at Lakenheath and Mildenhall.”

The meeting lasted one hour and the situation in Algeria and the relationship the West has with China was also discussed.

RAF Marham is one of Norfolk’s 10 largest employers and has in the region of 5,000 people, bringing around £130m to the area’s economy.

Marham’s short-term future was only guaranteed by the government in 2011 following the successful Make it Marham campaign, which was spearheaded by the EDP.

The JSF, designed by US firm Lockheed Martin, is known in America as the F35, but the British-owned jets are called Lightning II aircraft.

The Ministry of Defence has taken delivery of two JSFs but they remain in the US for testing and training.

Last year defence minister Peter Luff told the EDP that Marham was “very well placed” to become the base to host the JSF.

Hopes were raised even further when in July last year another defence minister, Nick Harvey, let slip that it would “not be practical” to locate JSF at Lossiemouth, Marham’s only rival for the JSF, because it was the new home of the RAF’s Euro-fighter Typhoon fleet.

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