Marham under threat - Fears for base amid fighter speculation
The future of RAF Marham has been thrown into the air again along with that of the estimated 15,000 jobs dependent on the West Norfolk base.
It follows a Sunday newspaper report that 617 Squadron, the iconic Dambusters, which used to be based at Marham and is now at RAF Lossiemouth in Scotland, will be the first in the RAF to operate the new F-35 Joint Strike Fighter when it comes into operation in three years’ time.
Now South West Norfolk MP Elizabeth Truss has written to Defence Secretary Philip Hammond asking him for clarification on the report and when a decision will be made on the long-term base for the JSF.
With support from her NW Norfolk colleague, Henry Bellingham MP, she has lobbied for this next generation of fast jets to be based permanently at Marham, after the last Labour government identified both Marham and Lossiemouth as potential homes for the F-35 force.
In July last year when the first JSF jet was handed over to him in Texas, Mr Hammond said a final decision had yet to be made about where the planes would be based - but that it was “likely” that Marham would get the nod.
The SW Norfolk MP believes the base, which has a combined service and civilian workforce of about 3,500, has the best case to become the JSF force’s permanent home, especially as it is so close to the USAF bases at Mildenhall and Lakenheath in Suffolk.
The RAF and Royal Navy will operate a force of 48 F-35 jets and the UK has been working closely with the US on the development of the aircraft.
After the report on Sunday, Ms Truss said: “RAF Marham is the logical home for the JSF. The superb engineering and technical capabilities, not to forget the perfect strategic location, all make the base the logical home for the JSF.
“In January this year I met the US Secretary of State for Defense and discussed the future basing of the JSF.
“Last summer the Defence Secretary said that ‘Marham was the likely choice’. The Tornado aircraft will be part of the UK’s fast jet fleet until the JSF comes into full operation .
“Local businesses, residents, service personnel and families all want to know what the long term future of the base will be and I will be pressing, as a matter of priority, the Ministry of Defence on the future basing decision.”
Yesterday, Mr Bellingham said if Marham was chosen as the home of the JSF fleet it would secure the future of the base for the next 25 to 30 years and the thousands of jobs it generated in the local community.
He said: “For every job at RAF Marham, there are five or six in the district linked to it and many of the airmen who don’t live on the base live in West Norfolk and contribute to the local economy.
“The community has embraced RAF Marham in a way I think is remarkable, with it holding the Freedom of King’s Lynn, various civic events linked to it each year and close ties between the two.”
Mr Bellingham said the British Aerospace unit at the base was also closely connected with some of the educational establishments in West Norfolk and it was important to teach youngsters these new skills for the future.
About two-and-a-half years ago, both Marham and Lossiemouth were contenders to be the main base of the Tornado GR4 jets and that reached a successful conclusion in July 2011 when Marham emerged the victor.
At the same time, it was announced that Lossiemouth would be the home of all the Typhoon (Eurofighter) jets and the Marham Tornados would remain part of the UK’s fast jet fleet until the JSF comes into service in 2020.
In making the case for the long-term future of Marham, Ms Truss has highlighted to the MoD the strong support for the base locally, its economic contribution to Norfolk and the strategic and cost advantages of basing the fleet there.
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Weather for King's Lynn
Wednesday 22 May 2013
Temperature: 5 C to 15 C
Wind Speed: 16 mph
Wind direction: West
Temperature: 5 C to 10 C
Wind Speed: 21 mph
Wind direction: North west