In an alarming move, the United States is reportedly deploying nuclear weapons in the United Kingdom for the first time since 2008. Government documents cited by the BBC indicate that the Royal Air Force base Lakenheath will soon be the home of these weapons, as evidenced by contracts for facility improvements, including troop shelters required for the “upcoming nuclear mission.” Previously, the base housed a nuclear arsenal of unknown size, but these weapons were removed in 2008 amidst decreased tensions between Russia and NATO after the end of the Cold War.
However, with the Russian invasion of Ukraine approaching its two-year anniversary, tensions between Russia and NATO have been steadily rising. The U.S. Air Force’s 48th Fighter Wing is stationed at RAF Lakenheath, which flies both the F-15E Eagle and the F-35A Lightning II fighter aircraft. Of particular concern is the fact that the F-35A has been tested to use the latest variant of the B61-12 thermonuclear bomb, a bomb that was also tested on the F-15E during its development.
— Home Defense Gun (@HomeDefenseGun) January 29, 2024
According to the BBC, the B61-12 bomb has a yield capability of 340 kilotons, with the bomb dropped on Hiroshima in 1945 exploding with an energy equivalent to roughly 15 kilotons. However, the B61-12 can be deployed with smaller yields as well. Other contracts awarded by the federal government include one for a “Surety Dormitory” and one for “hardened ballistic security shelters” with bulletproof glass capable of stopping a .30-caliber rifle bullet.
Predictably, there has been opposition to the return of American nuclear weapons in Britain. Kate Hudson, the general secretary of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, stated that the documents confirm the suspicion that US nuclear weapons are returning to Britain, and she criticized both the US and UK governments for not being transparent about such a serious matter. She argued that the deployment of these weapons escalates tensions and makes Britain a nuclear target, although it is likely that the joint US-UK base would be a target with or without the presence of nuclear weapons.
The Ministry of Defense in the UK has refused to comment on the matter, citing longstanding NATO agreements. The US Air Force has not responded to the BBC’s request for comment either. This development comes at a time when both the British army and US Navy are expressing concerns about potential conflicts in Europe, emphasizing the need to strengthen their respective armed forces. RAF Lakenheath, which is the largest US Air Force-operated base in England, will now become an even more significant player in global geopolitics.