US nukes returned to UK soil after 15 year hiatus

An investigative report by the Federation of American Scientists suggests that the US is preparing to return nuclear bombs to UK soil.
Christopher McFadden
A F-35A of the 495th Fighter Squadron landing at RAF Lakenheath, circa December 2021.

U.S. Air Force/iStock 

According to some sleuth investigators from the Federation of American Scientists (FAS), United States nuclear assets appear to return to UK soil shortly. As reported by the FAS, United States Air Force budgetary documents." strongly imply that the United States Air Force is in the process of re-establishing its nuclear weapons mission on UK soil."

Cold War 2.0

As revealed by the FAS, the Air Force's budget justification package for the 2024 financial year (FY) explicitly details plans to build a "surety dormitory" at RAF Lakenheath. This airbase is around 60 miles (100 kilometers), "as the crow flies," northeast of London. "Surety," in this sense, is a term frequently used by the Department of Defense (DoD) and Department of Energy (DoE) to indicate the ability to maintain nuclear weapons in a safe, secure, and positively controlled manner on non-US soil.

According to the "justification documents," a new 144-bed dormitory needs to be built to accommodate the increase in enlisted personnel stationed as part of the mission. The documents also state a significant shortage of unaccompanied housing for E4-level staff and below at Royal Air Force Lakenheath. By all accounts, the facility's construction is set to start in June 2024 and finish in February 2026.

Based on budgetary evidence from the past two years, the FAS is convinced that the United States plans to bring US nuclear assets back to the UK. This would overturn a 15-year hiatus when, in 2008, they had been withdrawn from RAF Lakenheath.

As reported by the FAS, RAF Lakenheath's "Weapons Storage and Security Systems" are located within "Protective Aircraft Shelters," also known as WS3s. These have a vault that can be lowered into the concrete floor and are equipped with the necessary command, control, and communication software to unlock the weapons.

These vaults were installed at RAF Lakenheath in the 1990s, with each vault capable of holding up to four B61 bombs for a total capacity of 132 warheads. The B61 nuclear bomb is the primary thermonuclear gravity bomb in the United States' "Enduring Stockpile" after the Cold War. It is a nuclear weapon with a low to intermediate yield and can be used for strategic and tactical purposes. The bomb has a two-stage radiation implosion design. The B61 is a nuclear bomb with a variable yield, ranging from 0.3 to 340 kilotons, depending on the model.

Regarding the vaults at RAF Lakenheath, these were not given over to the host nation when US nuclear assets were removed but merely "mothballed," indicating they require little modification to reinstate them.

As the FAS points out, The United States may be getting the infrastructure at RAF Lakenheath ready for the "potential reception" of nuclear weapons. This does not necessarily mean they will permanently station them there or increase the number of weapons already stored in Europe. The budget language suggesting a "potential Surety mission" implies that a formal deployment decision has not yet been made.

Not just UK

It seems that ongoing upgrades are happening at various nuclear storage bases in Europe, aimed at enabling the swift transportation of weapons in and out of the bases for increased operational flexibility. This is similar to what's happening at RAF Lakenheath, where it's possible that during a real nuclear crisis with Russia, some US nuclear weapons may be relocated from more exposed bases in the east.

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