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31 Aug, 2023 04:57

US seeks to base its nuclear forces in UK – media

Washington will reportedly place dozens of F-35 jets and possibly nuclear weapons at RAF Lakenheath
US seeks to base its nuclear forces in UK – media

The United States could seek to station nuclear weapons on British territory for the first time since 2008, according to Pentagon budget documents analyzed by a US think-tank and British media. American fighter jets capable of nuclear bombing raids are also slated for the same UK air base, the files suggest.

In a March funding request to Congress, the US military sought $50 million for a new “surety dormitory” at the Lakenheath Royal Air Force base in Suffolk, north of the British capital, the Telegraph reported on Wednesday. 

According to the Federation of American Scientists, the term “surety” is frequently used by the Pentagon to refer to “the capability to keep nuclear weapons safe, secure, and under positive control.” While the budget document made mention of a NATO project to construct “secure sites and facilities” to store “special weapons” in the UK, officials have yet to confirm any new deployments at the base in question.

RAF Lakenheath was one of three sites in Britain to house US nuclear weapons throughout the Cold War, holding 110 American warheads until a drawdown in 2008. Washington also supplied atomic bombs to UK forces under an initiative dubbed ‘Project E’ until 1992, soon after the fall of the Soviet Union.

Hamish de Bretton-Gordon, a former commander of the UK-NATO Joint Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear Regiment, told the Telegraph the new surety facility is likely to store nuclear arms.

“In this case, a surety dormitory is a bunker used to house nuclear missiles and warheads. It needs to be hardened and a secure place – if the Russians wanted to drop a bomb on them it wouldn’t create a nuclear accident,” he said.

Construction of the dormitory is scheduled to begin next summer and end in early 2026, the documents say.

The same Pentagon budget request also shows that Washington plans to station two squadrons of F-35 A fighter jets – capable of tactical nuclear bombing missions – at RAF Lakenheath. Unnamed British military sources reached by the Telegraph said 54 F-35s are set to replace older US F-15s at the base sometime in the coming months.

The prospect of a fresh nuclear deployment in the UK has triggered anxiety among some critics, with the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament stating the move would be “beyond irresponsible.”

“The deployment of the new B61-12 (gravity bombs) to Europe undermines any prospects for global peace and ensures Britain will be a target in a nuclear conflict between the US/NATO and Russia,” said the campaign’s general secretary, Kate Hudson. She added: “It's increasingly clear that Lakenheath is once again a vital cog in Washington's overseas nuclear machine.”

Asked about the possibility of nuclear weapons returning to the base during a recent briefing, Deputy Pentagon press secretary Sabrina Singh said it was US policy to “neither confirm nor deny the presence or absence of nuclear weapons at any general or specific location.”

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