The Air Force does not intend to remove its F-15E Strike Eagles from RAF Lakenheath, Britain, after the F-35A strike fighter begins operating from there next decade, said Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh at AFA’s Air Warfare Symposium in Orlando, Fla. “There is no current plan to phase out the Strike Eagles with the F-35 at that time,” Welsh told reporters during a media roundtable on Feb. 13. “It should be a pretty lethal force at Lakenheath,” he added. The Defense Department announced in December that Lakenheath would host two squadrons of F-35As, each with 24 frontline airplanes, with the first of these stealth jets arriving in 2020. They will be the Air Force’s first F-35s permanently stationed in Europe. At the time of the basing announcement, neither DOD nor the Air Force specified what the fate of Lakenheath’s F-15Es would be after the arrival of the F-35As. Lakenheath’s 48th Fighter Wing operates two squadrons of F-15E multirole fighters today, plus one squadron of F-15C Eagles for air superiority. The latter were scheduled to depart the base for good last year before Russia’s aggressive actions in Ukraine. The United States subsequently decided to keep them in Europe for the time being to reassure NATO members in Eastern Europe.
The U.S. supports “a stronger and more capable” European defense, Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III said during an Oct. 22 press conference in Brussels—but that defense should not duplicate the functions and capabilities of the NATO alliance.