The Pentagon’s decision to keep the 352nd Special Operations Wing at its current home of RAF Mildenhall, U.K., necessitates new military construction to update the base’s neglected infrastructure for the Airmen, CV-22s, and MC-130s, though it also means the wing can stay in a familiar training area.
In 2015, the Air Force announced plans to move the 352nd SOW and the 100th Air Refueling Wing from Mildenhall to Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany, and ultimately close the East Anglian base. That plan was delayed multiple times; then, earlier this summer, the Pentagon and U.S. European Command announced plans to withdraw more than 11,000 troops from Germany, move Spangdahlem’s F-16s to Italy, and keep Mildenhall open. AFSOC boss Lt. Gen. James C. Slife said Sept. 15 that AFSOC is in full support of the plan, with the wing comfortable and used to operating in the Mildenhall area.
“Obviously we haven’t invested in infrastructure in Mildenhall in a number of years in anticipation of a move to Spangdahlem, but we recognize the change in policy and we’re supportive of that,” Slife said during a press conference as part of AFA’s virtual Air, Space & Cyber Conference. “Obviously we’ve worked out a lot of the kinks that come along with training in a new area and that kind of stuff in the U.K. We’ve been there a long time, and we’ve got a great training environment in the U.K., we’ve got good access to particularly the high north and some of the areas that are increasing in relevance for us.”
However, since the move was initially announced, the Air Force has not invested extensively in infrastructure upgrades to the base. This means the wing’s facilities aren’t “ideal, but by no means are they completely unsatisfactory.” Slife said he expects the Air Force in the near future will make military construction investments to better serve the wing.
“With respect to the 352nd, they’re there. They’re settled in at Mildenhall, they’ll continue to operate,” he said. “I expect that we will start putting some money into facilities to either update or renovate, or invest in new facilities, as the case may be there. But, in terms of operational impact? Because we hadn’t started moving anything to Spangdahlem, … we haven’t seen a fall off in capability or readiness with the kind of back and forth on that decision.”
Mildenhall has about 4,200 Active-duty Airmen, and the Pentagon’s 2015 European Infrastructure Consolidation Plan first called for the wings to move in 2017. That was repeatedly delayed, eventually until 2027, before the move was canceled. In announcing the plan, Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper said it makes “obvious strategic sense” to keep the wings there, without providing specifics.
U.S. Air Forces in Europe boss Gen. Jeffrey L. Harrigian said Sept. 14 that keeping Mildenhall open makes sense because of the “great support that we get there, and the infrastructure that we already have and invested in.”