The US air force has secured $50m (£39m) funding next year for a project that could pave the way for American nuclear weapons to return to British soil for the first time in more than 15 years.
In justifying the expenditure on a 144-bed dormitory at RAF Lakenheath in Suffolk, the USAF told Congress the building was intended to “house the increase in enlisted personnel as the result of the potential surety mission”, which is jargon typically used by the Pentagon to refer to handling of nuclear weapons, according to experts.
Construction of the dormitory is due to begin in June 2024 and last until February 2026, and is the latest in a series of signs that preparations are under way for the possible return of US nuclear weapons to UK territory.
Matt Korda, of the Federation of American Scientists (FAS), who first reported on the budget request, said: “The mention of the arrival of the potential surety mission caught my eye as that is a buzzword, a term commonly used in the defence department and the nuclear weapons complex to refer to the positive control of nuclear weapons in a safe and secure way.”
The FAS previously reported that in the 2023 defence budget, the UK was added to the list of countries where infrastructure investment is under way on “special weapons” storage sites in Europe, alongside Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Turkey.
The FAS estimates there are about 100 B61 gravity bombs in storage in those five countries. They were withdrawn from the UK in 2007, but the storage facilities for the bombs were mothballed rather than dismantled.
US nuclear weapons were first based in the UK in 1954, notably at RAF Greenham Common and RAF Molesworth, but also at RAF Lakenheath, which at one time had shelters to store as many as 110 air launched B61 nuclear bombs.