“Revolutionary” F-35A Lightning IIs on deployment at RAF Lakenheath to maximise training and strengthen US and UK alliance
- Credit: Sonya Duncan
Eight F-35A Lightning IIs, the 'most sophisticated aircraft in history', are on a training deployment to RAF Lakenheath to reinforce NATO allegiances and to prepare the base for when it welcomes the warplanes permanently.
The F-35A Lightning II, which has been described by senior military personnel as 'revolutionary', will bolster the defence of NATO's air space at a time when tensions are mounting with Russia.
US air force jets will be stationed at Lakenheath while completing training exercises which include flights to other European bases.
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General Tod Wolters, Commander of the US Air Forces in Europe, said: 'The F-35's deployment to Europe was planned to maximise training, strengthen the alliance and enhance NATO's deterrent policy.
'Sovereignty over the NATO skies is paramount. The deployment will assist us in refining and fine tuning the 35A. The Lightning II's home away from home is here.'
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Speaking at a ceremony to welcome the jets and operational staff from Hill Air Force Base, Utah, the US ambassador Lewis Lukens said the aircraft at Lakenheath was a clear demonstration of the United States' commitment to NATO.
In addition to training mission they will act as a deterrent against further 'Russian aggression' in Syria.
In four years time a total of 54 of the multi-role £100m fighters will arrive at the Suffolk base, where two Joint Strike Fighter squadrons will be created.
In UK, the F-35 programme will create an estimated 24,000 jobs and produce an estimated £3b in business for UK companies.
Speaking at a ceremony to welcome the jets and operational staff from Hill Air Force Base, Utah, Colonel Evan Pettus, Commander of the 48th Fighter Wing at RAF Lakenheath, said: 'As an airman there is nothing more exciting then seeing a new aircraft show up on your flight line. But this weekend's arrival of the F-35A is significant for many reasons.
'First it gives us a look at the future of the 48th Fighter Wing. In 2021 RAF Lakenheath will have the privilege of welcoming the first [US] F-35A aircraft permanently stationed overseas.
'Four years may seem a long way off but we are already hard at work preparing for its installation and this is a critical opportunity to validate the steps we've taken so far.'
Next year, RAF Marham will welcome 617 Squadron - the air force's first to be equipped with the F-35. Personnel from the base will be supporting their near neighbours at Lakenheath.
Air Marshal Stuart Atha from the RAF said the training deployment was a step towards 'unlocking the potential' of the aircraft.
F-35 Lightning II
It is the world's most advanced multi-role fighter.
A squadron of the jets can carry out air-to-air combat, air-to-ground strikes, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance.
It has advanced stealth which allows pilots to go into areas without being detected by radars which can detect older fighters.
Wingspan: 35 feet
Length: 51 feet
Height: 14 feet
Speed: Mach 1.6 or 1,200 mph
Range: More than 1,350 miles but unlimited with aerial refueling
Nine countries were involved in its development; United States, Britain, Italy, Netherlands, Turkey, Canada, Denmark, Norway and Australia.
There is also the F-35B Lightning II which is the world's first supersonic short takeoff/vertical landing (STOVL) aircraft.
And the F-35C which is designed to land on aircraft carriers.
RAF Lakenheath and the 48th Fighter Wing
RAF Lakenheath is the UK's biggest US air force base and home to 48th Fighter Wing.
There are more than 4,500 active military members and more over 1,000 British and US civilians - including at RAF Feltwell.
It is the US Air Forces in Europe's only F-15 fighter wing.
Along with F-15s, the 48th Fighter Wing is host to HH-60G Pave Hawk helicopters.
The 48th Tactical Fighter Wing's first F-100D Super Sabre touched down on RAF Lakenheath's runway on January 15, 1960.
Some of the jets which have been seen flying over the region include; the McDonnell Douglas F-4D Phantom II, the General Dynamics F-111 Aardvark and McDonnell Douglas F-15E Strike Eagles.
The USAFE (United States Air Forces in Europe) Economic Impact Analysis 2012, published in 2013, stated RAF Lakenheath pumps $602.2m (£365m) into the region's economy every year.