Fresh concern for west Suffolk economy as USAF announce loss Pave Hawk helicopter Rescue Squadrons and 700 Americans from RAF Lakenheath

ROYAL AIR FORCE LAKENHEATH, England – A four-ship fleet of 56th Rescue Squadron HH-60G Pave Hawks fl

ROYAL AIR FORCE LAKENHEATH, England A four-ship fleet of 56th Rescue Squadron HH-60G Pave Hawks fly past the air traffic control tower Aug. 13, 2012. This is the first time the 56th RQS has flown more than three helicopters at once since arriving at RAF Lakenheath in 2006. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Tiffany M. Grigg) - Credit: Archant

Around 700 Americans will leave west Suffolk in 2017 after the USAF announced two helicopter squadrons are being relocated to Italy.

The move has prompted fresh concerns about the region’s “over reliance” on the hundreds of millions of pounds that both RAF Lakenheath and RAF Mildenhall add to the economy.

With RAF Mildenhall closing in 2022, taking 3,200 airmen and many thousands more dependants with it, the announcement that the HH-60 Pave Hawk helicopters and the 350 members of the 56th and 57th Rescue Squadrons are now leaving RAF Lakenheath has come as a shock.

The leader of Forest Heath District Council, James Waters, said the council will carry on working with the USAF and other partners to minimise the impact of the changes.

With two squadrons of F-35 jets set arrive at RAF Lakenheath from 2020, Mr Waters stressed that overall, the number of personnel will go up by 850.

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He said: “The bigger picture to all of this is that the USAF is still committed to expanding its presence at RAF Lakenheath and we were expecting a shuffling of its pack ahead of the arrival of the F-35s and 1,200 additional personnel.

“We continue to be in regular liaison with both the USAF in Europe and the Ministry of Defence over the changes at both RAF Lakenheath and RAF Mildenhall, and we will have further talks to understand and minimise the impact of these changes to our local communities.”

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Since the Mildenhall closure was announced in January this year, the council has been working with MPs, the government and Local Area Enterprise Groups to formulate a plan for the base after the US leave. Everything from a new town, to an F1 Racing track has been floated.

West Row campaigner John Smith, a former RAF Lakenheath postmaster, said yesterday’s announcement was proof that the USAF are not a reliable source of income and employment.

“It is really worrying, it is 2017 when Mildenhall are really going to get moving,” he said. “It is worrying for the future and shows that Lakenheath is not as secure as many people would have you believe.

“The Americans can at any point decide that they don’t want as many F-35s stationed there, and suddenly the loss of airmen is even bigger, it will hit us hard and I am scared.

“For the last 40 years it has been brilliant to have the airmen here, but we should have been working out a plan for when they have gone. The loss of Mildenhall will be like a pit closing in Wales, we need government funding.”

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