Lakenheath/Mildenhall: Fighter aircraft grounded amid budget cuts

A USAF F-15E Strike Eagle from RAF Lakenheath. Photograph Simon Parker

A USAF F-15E Strike Eagle from RAF Lakenheath. Photograph Simon Parker - Credit: Archant

UP TO 75 fighter planes have been grounded for five months at a US base in Suffolk due to budget cuts, it emerged last night.

The US Air Force (USAF) stood down two of 48th Fighter Wing’s F-15 Eagle Squadrons, based at RAF Lakenheath, from operations yesterday. A third squadron will be kept “combat mission ready” until September.

The moves comes amid steep defence cuts by the US Government, but last night councillors in Suffolk said they were confident there remained a long-term USAF commitment to the county.

The grounding of the squadrons comes as 100th Air Refuelling Wing at RAF Mildenhall also had its training flights reduced.

Suffolk county councillor Stephen Frost, who represents Mildenhall, said he read “nothing sinister” into the grounding of the aircraft.

“There’s a commitment for the long-term future of both air bases, certainly for RAF Mildenhall,” he added.

“I have been around long enough to know that when there was a very quiet period about 15 years ago they resurfaced the runway and didn’t stop anyone’s posting and life went on.”

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Colin Noble, county councillor for Row Heath and district councillor for Lakenheath, said: “We will have a quieter summer but the bases are still operational.

“We work with the American forces and certainly enjoy them living and working within our community and we hope that will long remain. We have a long tradition together and I’m sure that will continue.”

It is understood that the USAF began grounding combat air squadrons yesterday in response to the effects of defence budget cuts.

In all, 17 air combat squadrons are reported to have been grounded in connection with the USAF’s budget for flying hours being reduced by $591million for the remainder of fiscal 2013.

USAF officials declined to comment last night.

However, Lieutenant Colonel Christopher Smith, 100th Operations Group deputy commander at Mildenhall, commented on the suspension of training flights.

He explained: “Training missions in the 100th Air Refuelling Wing are very valuable opportunities that are key to maintaining aircrew proficiency.

“Although we do not have plans to completely eliminate these missions, the frequency at which we conduct training sorties has been impacted.

“We are continuously reviewing training requirements to ensure our aircrew maintain their primary mission capability while also being fiscally responsible.

“Although training missions have decreased, the 100th ARW remains ready to conduct real-world air refuelling and combat support for our US and partner nations’ military aircraft throughout the European and African areas of responsibility.”