Case to save RAF Marham vindicated by air chief’s comments on ‘overstretched’ service

MP to speak with defence secretary on securing base's future

The case for saving RAF Marham from closure has been vindicated by fears that the air force is already 'overstretched' and future missions could be under threat, according to one Norfolk MP.

Liz Truss will be talking the defence secretary Dr Liam Fox about the threatened base in light of comments made by Air Chief Marshal Sir Simon Bryant who claimed the RAF was under huge demand with intense air operations in Afghanistan and the Middle East.

In a briefing paper for senior politicians, the RAF's second in command said morale was fragile and the service was at full stretch and 'running hot'.

He warned that the ability of the RAF to deal with an unforseen emergency would be rapidly 'eroded' if the current Libyan campaign went beyond September.

The RAF has Torado jets from Marham flying missions in Libya where base personnel have been involved from the beginning of Operation Ellamy, as well as ten of the aircraft on operations in Afghanistan.

'It completely vindicates the case for RAF Marham,' said Ms Truss.

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'The whole Libyan conflict has shown how important it is to have a rapid reaction force located at Marham. I am concerned at how the air force is being stretched and I am going to raise it with the defence secretary.

'We can't have people risking their lives without the support being there,' she added.

Her comments come less that 24 hours before personnel from Marham will be in King's Lynn for the Freedom of the Borough parade today - which mayor Colin Sampson has urged as many people as possible to attend and show support for the base.

'We all know that the station's resources have been even further stretched with recent events around the world. I will take great pride in welcoming the contingent from RAF Marham and inspecting them on parade,' he said.

The parade will form up at Common Staithe Quay at 11.30am and march to the Tuesday Market Place, where it will be reviewed by the mayor at noon.

The future of RAF Marham is in the balance as a decision on whether Tornado squadrons will continue to be based there, or moved to Lossiemouth, Scotland, is not expected for another month. Campaigners in West Norfolk, led by the EDP, have been battling to ensure the base remains in the county with fears for the local economy if it isn't retained.

RAF Marham could be lost under the Government's Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) which is a cost-cutting measure. An announcement is expected before Parliament breaks for summer recess on July 19.

Marham's XXXl Squadron will be returning to Afghanistan in the coming weeks where it will join the fight against the Taliban.

Air Chief Marshal Bryant waned the RAF was under threat of being overstretched with both fighter and transport aircraft working round the clock.

'The impact of SDSR continues to undermine the sense of being valued. There is concern over the perceieved lack of strategic direction which is restricting confidence in the senior leadership,' he said.

His comments were made in a briefing paper delivered last month. The comments became public just a week after Admiral Sir Mark Stanhope, the head of the Royal Navy, warned that current operations were 'unsustainable.'

No-one from RAF Marham would comment yesterday, but Minister for the Armed Forces, Nick Harvey said: 'The prospect of redundancies would of course affect any organisation, but I continue to be impressed by the professionalism and commitment shown by our people and I know they will rise to any challenge. Tough but necessary measures had to be taken in the SDSR in consultation with our military advisors, but as our efforts in Libya and Afghanistan are showing, we continue to have the resources necessary to carry out operations.

The RAF faces personnel losses of around 5,000 over the next three years under the current review.

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