US to stay at Mildenhall, proposes Spangdahlem Air Base withdrawal

The US Defense Secretary, Dr Mark Esper, announced plans to reduce the US military’s presence in Germany on July 29 – a move which cancels previous plans to relocate RAF Mildenhall-based aircraft and personnel to the country.

According to Esper, the US Department of Defense (DoD) will withdraw 11,900 troops from Germany – 6,400 of which will return to the US and 5,600 will be relocated around Europe. The move will reduce the number of US military personnel in Germany from 35,900 to 24,000.  

The outlined plan will also see the US military withdraw from Spangdahlem Air Base in Germany, which is currently home to the 480th Fighter Squadron (FS) ‘Warhawks’ and its Lockheed Martin F-16CM/DM (Block 50CF) Fighting Falcons.

Spangdahlem F-16s [USAF/SSgt Preston Cherry]
An F-16CM-50CF rolls out after landing at Spangdahlem Air Base following a routine training flight in March 2020. USAF/SSgt Preston Cherry

Current plans state that the unit – a part of the USAF’s 52nd Fighter Wing (FW) – would be relocated to Aviano Air Base in the Friuli-Venezia Giulia region of northeastern Italy.

The Italian base is also home to USAF fighter aircraft, which are operated by the 31st FW’s 510th FS ‘Buzzards’ and 555th FS ‘Triple Nickel’ – both of which fly the F-16CM (Block 40CF).

Despite plans to withdraw from Spangdahlem, the US’ presence at Ramstein Air Base will remain unaffected.

Esper said: “We could see some moves begin within weeks. Others will take longer. As anyone can see, the repositioning of our forces in Europe constitutes a major strategic and positive shift, wholly in line with the NDS [(National Defense Strategy)] and consistent with other adjustments the United States has made within NATO in previous times.”

Spangdahlem F-16s [USAF/SSgt Jonathan Synder]
A line up of 'Warhawk' F-16s - belonging to the 480th FS - lined up on the flightline during a deployment to Poland in June 2019. The 'SP' base code will become a thing of the past if the unit relocates to Aviano Air Base. USAF/SSgt Jonathan Synder

According to the US DoD, the move will better reposition the Spangdahlem-based fighter squadron and support units closer to the Black Sea region, which will enable them to better support NATO operations in the southeast of the continent.

USAF Gen John Hyten, vice president of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said: “This rebalance, consistent with the NDS, will align NATO and EUCOM [(European Command)] capabilities, better distribute forces across Europe and increase the use of rotational forces, thus bolstering our commitment to Europe.

“It enhances deterrence and improves operational flexibility... This effort will increase opportunities to partner and strengthen our bond with allies and partners in the region. It will also require additional planning and consultation with our allies,” he added.

Mildenhall KC-135 [USAF/MSgt Matthew Plew]
An RAF Mildenhall-based KC-135R Stratotanker - operated by the 100th Air Refueling Wing 'Bloody 100th' - refuels an F-15C Eagle from the 493rd FS 'The Grim Reapers' over Keflavik, Iceland in March 2020. USAF/MSgt Matthew Plew 

The July 29 announcement confirmed that plans to close RAF Mildenhall in Surrey, UK, and relocate US tanker and special operations forces to Germany have now been cancelled after a period of uncertainty.

RAF Mildenhall’s resident 100th Air Refueling Wing ‘Bloody 100th’ and the 352nd Special Operations Wing (SOW) will now remain in the UK. As part of previous base closure plans, the US DoD had planned to relocate the 95th Reconnaissance Squadron to RAF Fairford in Gloucestershire, UK. It is unclear if this move will still happen.