Are 'superplanes' set for Lakenheath?

SPECULATION is mounting that a Suffolk airbase could become home to the US military's most advanced fighter aircraft.

Laurence Cawley

SPECULATION is mounting that a Suffolk airbase could become home to the US military's most advanced fighter aircraft.

The £70million F-22 Raptor, which uses stealth technology, this week wowed crowds when it went on display at the Farnborough Airshow.

The Lockheed Martin-built Raptors have been part of the US military's airforce since December 2005 and are currently assigned to six US bases.

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But speculation is now mounting both among air enthusiasts and service personnel that the F-22 might be assigned to Europe in the next few years, with RAF Lakenheath believed to be the most likely base.

RAF Lakenheath is home to the 48th Fighter Wing, also known as the Liberty Wing, and currently flies F15 C/D and E aircraft.

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The suggestion that the aircraft could be stationed at the west Suffolk base comes just weeks after the publication of a study by the Federation of American Scientists which said 110 American nuclear weapons had been withdrawn from RAF Lakenheath.

Despite base assurances to the contrary, the withdrawal sparked concerns that the base might close as a result.

It is now hoped that if F-22s are stationed at RAF Lakenheath the base's future will be secured well into the future.

A spokeswoman for RAF Lakenheath said F-22s being introduced to the Suffolk base was “not beyond the realms of possibility” but warned any suggestion the Raptors were likely to be stationed at the base was “pure speculation”.

She said: “It certainly is an impressive aircraft and most of what it can do cannot actually be seen. Any decisions about where it might go are made so far above base level that it would be impossible for us to speculate here.”

She said there were rumours about the future deployment of the F-22 not only amongst the plane enthusiasts but also amongst military service personnel.

David Gathercole, Forest Heath District Council member for Lakenheath, said: “The base is an important part of our local economy and we've lived with whatever type of fighter they've had there. We welcome the base being there.”

Lakenheath parish councillor John Gentle said he was aware of speculation surrounding the F-22.

But he warned: “The only people who really know what might happen are those at the Pentagon.

“Lakenheath is an incredible site. I imagine if they did bring these planes to the UK in due course they would come to Lakenheath.”

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