Report raises threat of closure of RAF Lakenheath, the country’s biggest US Air Force base
PUBLISHED: 09:53 19 March 2014 | UPDATED: 09:53 19 March 2014
A report commissioned by the United States government has suggested spending cuts could mean the closure of the country’s biggest US Air Force base.
RAF Lakenheath would be closed under two of the three options put forward by the global think tank RAND Corporation in its report for the US Department of Defense examining the world’s most powerful military’s presence overseas.
Thousands of military and civilian staff at Lakenheath live off-base in the local area, while it and neighbouring RAF Mildenhall pump more than £500m into the local economy every year.
But the base’s 74-year affiliation with the area is under threat as the US Air Force prepares for drastic spending cuts totalling billions of dollars. RAND’s report recommends Lakenheath for closure under two options and suggests relocating its resident 48th Fighter Wing to another base in the third, leaving just its intelligence and communication operations.
James Waters, leader of Forest Heath District Council, said: “We’ve got a good broad base in our local economy, lots of expertise in working with the American bases and supporting local business, so I’m confident we’ll deal with whatever comes our way.
“Forest Heath has a really strong focus on our local economy so we won’t be waiting to see what happens – we’ll be in there talking to people, finding out what support we can give and doing all we can to make sure what’s happening at the bases isn’t to the detriment of our local area.”
RAND’s report is just one part of the ongoing European Infrastructure Consolidation (EIC) review under way by the US Department of Defense, the results of which are due to be published later this year.
A spokesman for United States Air Force Europe said: “Until the EIC is complete, it would be premature to discuss any changes to US Air Force basing in Europe.”
Closing RAF Lakenheath could save the air force $314m every year, according to the 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.
While it is left untouched by two of RAND’s three options, the other would see staff there return to the United States while it remained open as just a more modest refuelling base.
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