Jon Vale, Reporter
Wednesday, June 18, 2014
The future of two of our US Air Force bases looks to be secure for the time being after a major review by the American military resolved to keep them open.
Both RAF Lakenheath and RAF Mildenhall have survived the cuts outlined in the US Department of Defense’s recent European Infrastructure Consolidation (EIC) review.
But the base today warned that there could still be cuts as the review continues.
The project will see $60million of annual savings delivered across the continent after months of auditing and negotiation, with the closure of a redundant ammunition storage at RAF Mildenhall the only facility affected in west Suffolk.
There were major fears about RAF Lakenheath after a report by the RAND Corporation, which fed into the EIC review, recommended the base for closure in two of three options.
However, the EIC review has opted to close a series of facilities that will have no impact on the military’s operational capacity.
Between them both bases contribute more than £500m to the area’s economy every year, and local county and district councillor Colin Noble hailed the announcement as “good news”.
He added: “They’ve been with us for a long time, they’re very much part of the community, and a lot of people work on the bases as well.
“I did read the relevant sections of the RAND report, we have seen reports before and with such a big spend it is something they review on a regular basis.
“If it ever did happen, it would undoubtedly cause problems and it would be a great shame, because as much as anything else we enjoy having them here with us.”
RAND’s report suggested Lakenheath, which is home to the 48th Fighter Wing, was too far from combat areas such as the Middle East, although there has been mounting pressure to keep a strong military force in Europe in light of recent events in Ukraine.
As well as the storage facilities at Mildenhall, 15 housing units at RAF Feltwell will be discarded, while other facilities given up around the continent include a golf course, a hotel and a skeet range.
“None of these adjustments affect existing force structure or military capabilities, and the efficiencies will further enable US European Command to resource high priority missions,” said Rear Admiral John Kirby, the Pentagon’s press secretary.
But a spokesman for RAF Mildenhall said the option for closures or cuts was still open.
“The Office of the Secretary of Defense announced 21 small infrastructure changes prior to the completion of the full European Infrastructure Consolidation review, and the ammunition storage facility at RAF Mildenhall was identified as an unused facility that could be returned to the host nation,” he said.
“These closures are the first under the larger EIC umbrella. It is unclear if the study will identify additional areas for consolidation and savings, and it is premature to discuss specifics until the process is complete.
“It is very important that our communities understand that the EIC process is still ongoing, and there is still potential for changes to be made to U.S. facilities at RAF Lakenheath and RAF Mildenhall in the future.”
American forces have been at RAF Lakenheath since 1948 and it is home to 4,500 military personnel and 2,000 civilian staff, thousands of whom live off-base.
Closing it could have saved the air force $314m every year, according to RAND’s 487-page report. The base costs the US Air Force $211m annually.
RAF Mildenhall, which costs $222m every year, is home to the 100th Air Refuelling Wing and is considered a key tactical base.