Royal Air Force Lakenheath will be the first European base to host U.S. F-35 Joint Strike Fighter squadrons, the Pentagon announced.
The facility, located in the eastern part of England in the United Kingdom, will house two operational squadrons consisting of 24 aircraft apiece, for a total of 48 F-35As, beginning in 2020, according to a statement released Thursday.
(The news, however, was overtaken by a spat between the F-35 program office and The Daily Beast involving the schedule and effectiveness of the aircraft’s gun and targeting system.)
The presence of the Lockheed Martin Corp.-made aircraft at Lakenheath “gives teeth to our ability to support collective defense of Europe and its partners,” Air Force Gen. Frank Gorenc, commander of air forces in Europe and Africa, said in the release.
The move is part of a plan to close 15 American military installations in Europe, including Royal Air Force Mildenhall, home to more than 3,000 American service members and civilians, to save an estimated $500 million a year, according to the Defense Department
The U.S. will also build F-35 maintenance facilities in Italy and Turkey, the Pentagon recently announced.
The Joint Strike Fighter is the Pentagon’s most expensive acquisition program, estimated to cost nearly $400 billion for 2,443 aircraft. Keeping the planes flying over the next half-century is estimated to cost another $1 trillion in sustainment.
Eight countries have committed to fund the development of F-35, including the U.K., Italy, the Netherlands, Turkey, Canada, Australia, Denmark and Norway. Also, Israel, Japan and South Korea plan to buy production models of the aircraft.
The plane missed its planned international debut last year in the United Kingdom due to a temporary fleet-wide grounding following a June 23 engine fire.
Let’s hope the U.S.’s F-35A conventional models and U.K.’s F-35B jump-jet variants play nice together.