New aircraft to bring economic boost to Mildenhall

CV-22 Osprey. Photo: Air Force/Tech Sgt Armando Carrion.

CV-22 Osprey. Photo: Air Force/Tech Sgt Armando Carrion. - Credit: Archant

A north Suffolk town is set to be given an economic boost after RAF Mildenhall announced expansion plans.

The 352nd Special Operations Group (SOG) at RAF Mildenhall will begin its expansion this summer.

Beginning this month, the first two of 10 CV-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft and the first of 12 MC-130J Commando II fixed-wing aircraft will arrive at the base.

The new aircraft will come with some 380 extra US air force personnel plus their families, increasing the number of people by about 900.

The decision to expand the 352nd SOG is a result of 'close coordination' between the UK Ministry of Defence and the US Department of Defense.

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It comes after concerns were raised about the future of RAF Lakenheath and Mildenhall amid steep defence cuts by the US government.

'We are welcoming back vertical airlift to SOF in Europe,' said Col Christopher Ireland, 352nd SOG commander.

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'It's been almost six years since we've had it here, and this modernisation of the force improves our efficiency and effectiveness.

'We're increasing in aircraft, operators, maintainers and support personnel.

'With the growth, we'll be able to more-fully support operations requirements and partner nation training opportunities.'

As recently reported, fears had been raised about USAF's commitment to the area after it emerged USAF stood down two of 48th Fighter Wing's F-15 Eagle Squadrons, based at nearby RAF Lakenheath, from operations.

Furthermore, the 100th Air Refuelling Wing at RAF Mildenhall had its training flights reduced.

Both bases contribute around £580million to the economy.

The latest expansion, which will see the rest of the Osprey aircraft arrive by the end of 2014 and the MC-130J inventory completed within five years, is expected to bring financial benefits to the local area.

Capt Jason Smith, 352nd SOG spokesman, said: 'The additional personnel will be good for the local area.

'As we increase our operations, we will be bolstering the local economony and new jobs in Mildenhall will mean a stronger local economy.'

John Bloodworth, chairman of Mildenhall Parish Council, said: 'It's good for the area and hopefully will bring more trade to the shops and the town which will be good.

'We've always had good relations with the Americans and I hope that happens.'

The addition of the CV-22s and MC-130Js are expected to enhance the capabilities of the operators.

The Osprey combines the vertical takeoff, hover and vertical landing qualities of a helicopter with the long-range fuel efficiency and speed characteristics of a turboprop aircraft.

It is said to offer increased speed and range over rotary-wing aircraft, enabling the execution of long-range missions, and can perform missions that normally would require both fixed-wing and rotary-wing aircraft.

Meanwhile, the MC-130J flies low visibility, single or multi-ship low-level air refueling missions for helicopters and tilt-rotor aircraft. It can also provide infiltration/exfiltration and resupply of forces by airdrop or airland accessing sensitive or hostile territories.

Both the CV-22 and MC-130J primarily fly missions at night to reduce probability of acquisition and engagement by enemy threats.

The SOG plans to host an expansion showcase for members of the local community and civic leaders later this month.

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