‘Tornados prove the case for Norfolk’s RAF Marham’

Tornado crews from RAF Marham were in the air within hours of the decision by Western and Arab leaders to take military action against Libya.

They launched some of the first strikes against Col Gaddafi's air defences, flying from Norfolk to North Africa.

Now campaigners are demanding the government keep Norfolk's last RAF flying base open – saying the action this week in which crews played a vital role in enforcing the no-fly zone has proved their case to keep the base.

Marham is currently under threat from plans to reduce the size of the RAF's Tornado force and base it at a single airfield, possibly in Scotland.

South West Norfolk MP Elizabeth Truss said: 'Clearly RAF Marham's proximity to the Middle East has been very useful to secure the no-fly zone over Libya and has underlined its strategic importance.

'The base has been instrumental so far and it has been obvious from what has happened over the past week that the commonsense case is to keep RAF Marham open.

'No one can predict what will happen in the future but it is inevitable that Britain will take up a leading role in global issues and we need a force to back that up.

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'With the Middle East being an area of upheaval at the moment, we need to be able to send planes there without them having to stop so the government's only option is to keep Tornados at Marham.'

Ms Truss, whose constituency includes RAF Marham, added: 'I think it would be wrong for the government to decide RAF Marham should be closed and I think it would shock the international community which has seen the important role Marham crews have played this week.

'I want to end the ongoing uncertainty for the future of the base and will keep pressing the Ministry of Defence for a decision.'

The first Tornado crew flew the 3,000 miles from RAF Marham and back last Saturday to launch missiles over Libya which marked the first bombing raid launched from the UK since 1945.

The following night, jets took off again from Norfolk's last RAF flying base for Libya but the crews abandoned their mission after reports there were civilians near their target.

On Monday, the first Tornados started to arrive at the Gioia del Colle base in southern Italy, from where they are have been flying 'armed reconnaissance missions' to safeguard Libya's population from Col Gaddafi's forces.

Then on Thursday night, a Tornado launched a number of guided Brimstone missiles at Libyan armoured vehicles which were threatening the civilian population of Ajdabiya.

Nick Daubney, West Norfolk Council leader, said it was this 'vital' role that RAF Marham played in global conflicts which made the borough proud.

He also said it was why the EDP's Make it Marham campaign united MPs, councils, businesses and communities across the county and saw 37,000 people sign a petition.

Mr Daubney said: 'Whatever is asked of the crews at the base, they always deliver in a superb and excellent fashion.

'Over the last 20 years they have been in demand when there is a new crisis in the world and the crews from RAF Marham always deliver.

'In the last week they have shown what a fantastic job they do and I don't think there is any question at all about the importance of the base to this country and the world.

'You never know what's round the corner but what we do know is the squadrons at RAF Marham have not only kept the people of this country safe but also around the globe.

'The message from me after seeing how the events have unfolded this week is that the base must stay open.'

Fellow Make it Marham supporter and former cabinet minister Baroness Gillian Shephard added: 'The crews have equipped themselves marvellously as they always have.

'I hope the events of the past week have highlighted the advantages of having a base closer rather than further away from where there's likely to be trouble.

'I hope now there is no doubt nationally about the importance of keeping RAF Marham open and that the strategic defence review will confirm this.'