Nuclear bombs could return to west Suffolk airbases under new proposals from a policy think-tank


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A new report has recommended bringing nuclear warheads back to west Suffolk’s airbases and restoring aerial bombing capability rather than re-investing in Trident.

The plans, put forward by the influential liberal think-tank CentreForum, are not supported by the current government, but would see a significant investment in troops and military hardware.

They have been met with criticism from the Green Party, who believe siting part of a proposed 100 warheads in the county would be dangerous for residents.

The report was authored by defence expert Toby Fenwick and would see RAF Honington, near Bury St Edmunds, become a storage facility for free-fall nuclear bombs.

“The UK owned bombs would be based at RAF Marham and RAF Honington, with RAF Lakenheath becoming the storage base for NATO’s free-fall bombs along with a base in Italy,” said the former RAF intelligence officer Mr Fenwick.

His report recommends basing 138 nuclear-capable F-35 jets out of RAF Marham, in Norfolk, and another as yet undefined RAF base. These jets would be able to fly from the UK’s two aircraft carriers and other bases across the country.

The former civil servant Mr Fenwick, from Sproughton, admitted his plans would make west Suffolk a potential target. However, he stressed that with the county home to two “important” US airbases, this was already the case.

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The UK’s current nuclear deterrent, Trident, is based on four submarines which can launch warheads from anywhere in the world’s oceans.

It is due to see significant investment in renewing the programme, but Mr Fenwick believes savings can be made by scrapping it. The money would instead go on increasing troop numbers and strengthening conventional forces, in response to modern day threats such as terrorism in the Middle East.

With no air capability at RAF Honington, nuclear warheads would be transported by convoy across the county’s roads to where they were required. This could be as far as Portsmouth, to supply the aircraft carriers.

Niall Pettitt, Green candidate for the West Suffolk constituency, described the proposal as “absurd”.

“I completely reject any replacement of Trident with new nuclear weapons,” he said. “It flies in the face of progress when, in the 70th anniversary of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings, the return to aerial based nuclear warfare is suggested.

“The residents of Lakenheath, Mildenhall and the wider West Suffolk area will continue to strongly reject nuclear weapons here.”

Christopher Spicer is the St Edmundsbury Borough councillor for the Pakenham ward, which includes RAF Honington.

He said: “I and the residents of the surrounding area would have the upmost trust in the RAF to maintain security in the very unlikely event nuclear bombs were stored there.”

A spokeswoman for the Minstry of Defence said: “In July 2013, the government published an unclassified version of the Trident alternatives review, which demonstrated that no alternative system is as capable, or as cost-effective, as a Trident-based deterrent.

“It looked at a free-fall nuclear bomb fitted to a fast jet but judged such a system insufficiently credible.”