Campaign re-ignited to secure long-term future of Norfolk base

A new phase in the battle to secure the long-term future of RAF Marham opened yesterday as the Ministry of Defence confirmed it is reviewing where the next generation of hi-tech military jets will be based.

The Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) F35 will replace the Tornado GR4 planes based at Marham, the future of which was guaranteed by the government earlier this year – but only for the lifetime of the Tornado.

South-West Norfolk MP Elizabeth Truss, who was a leading voice in the Make it Marham campaign, immediately called last night for the new JSF to be brought to the West Norfolk base – after a government minister revealed its original plan to send them to Lossiemouth, in Scotland, was being looked at again.

The EDP's successful Make it Marham campaign saw politicians join forces with council leaders and the wider community to stop RAF Marham becoming a victim of cuts in the recent defence review - but it was only the first step to saving it for future generations.

'I will work with my Norfolk colleagues and councils to put the strongest possible case,' said Ms Truss. 'We need to get in there early because you can bet your bottom dollar that the others will be as well.'

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A letter to Ms Truss from the junior defence minister Peter Luff said work was now under way to determine the best location for the Joint Strike Fighter which it intended to bring into service around 2020.

'We will also closely consider the impact on both communities and service personnel and their families,' said Mr Luff, Minister for Defence, Equipment, Support and Technology.

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The JSF is a multi-national project to develop a completely new stealth fighter and the UK currently has three w being tested in America.

It will replace the Tornados which could remain in service until around 2020 - the date the MoD would like to have the JSF operational alongside the Typhoon Eurofighter

A ministry spokesman said the final number which would be ordered had yet to be decided and the cost was not being revealed as it would 'depend on a number of factors, including the number which are ordered.'

But it is believed the RAF will eventually end up with 60-80 of the new Lockheed jets to replace a GR4 and GR4A fleet of around 135. Together with the Typhoon, which has recently come into commission, the JSF would be the UK's front-line in terms of air power.

'I believe RAF Marham is the most suitable location for the future basing of the JSF with both engineering capabilities and strategic arguments in its favour,' said Ms Truss.

'I will be seeking a meeting with Peter Luff urgently to discuss the criteria and timeframe for the decision.'

Norfolk County Council leader Derrick Murphy said it was now time for 'Make it Marham II' and urged another joint approach to ensure RAF Marham remains at the forefront of the UK's defence strategy.

'It was great that the EDP, county council and West Norfolk Council all worked together to Make it Marham to achieve the result.

'We need to get the F35 and, in the words of Hollywood, it's time for 'Make it Marham II' and if we all work together then I am convinced we will get a similar result,' he said.

If the JSF came to Marham, it would preserve the role of the base for at least a generation, he added.

West Norfolk Council leader Nick Daubney said: 'We always knew the magnificent campaign to Make it Marham was just the base of a larger one to come. I absolutely support Liz in this and she did a great job over the Tornados and has the ear of the ministers.'

The MoD has recently chosen the version of the F35 it prefers - one designed to land and take-off from aircraft carriers. Three test and evaluation planes are currently being put through their paces in America prior to a final decision on the number the UK government will be ordering.

BAE Systems, which has a section at RAF Marham where it maintains, upgrades and looks after the Tornado, has a 16pc stake in the JSF project and the fact it is already on the Norfolk base is being seen as positive.

But a spokesman for the company said it was too early to make any official comments on the JSF and where it may ultimately be based.

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