An F-35 fighter taxis at Edwards Air Force base, in 2012. The cutbacks in U.K. will be offset by new forces needed for the aircrafts' deployment to RAF Lakenhealth.The Pentagon announced a plan to save a half-billion dollars annually in a major scaling back of the U.S. military presence in Europe — including a withdrawal from an airbase in the U.K. and handing back 14 other sites to NATO allies.
It also said that its presence at one British airbase would be beefed up as part of a planned deployment of the F-35 fighter aircraft, npr.org reports.
The U.S. has more than 60,000 troops stationed primarily in Britain, Germany and Italy. The changes would affect mainly the Army and Air Force.
The Associated Press notes: "The restructuring will take place over the next several years, and the first F-35 aircraft would arrive in the U.K. in 2020. They will replace F-15 fighter jets, which are leaving."
Two operational squadrons of the F-35 Lightning II joint strike fighter are eventually to be stationed at RAF Lakenheath, about 70 miles northeast of London.
Facilities in Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, Italy and Portugal would be closed between 2018 and 2021 under the plan, according to The Hill.
A Department of Defense statement on Thursday says that the plan, known as the European Infrastructure Consolidation, will enhance readiness while reducing funding.
NPR's Tom Bowman says the U.S. has had a presence at RAF Mildenhall since the 1950s.
The AP quotes John Conger, the acting assistant secretary of defense for energy, installations and environment, as saying the closures themselves will cost $1.4 billion to implement.
"British Defense Secretary Michael Fallon voiced disappointment at the loss of U.S. forces from Mildenhall and two other bases, but said in a statement to Parliament that the advance notice would help mitigate the local impact.
"The Mildenhall withdrawal is not likely to begin until 2019.