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An F-35 Lightning II (middle) and F-16 Fighting Falcons fly to Edwards AFB, Calif. Courtesy photo by Darin Russell.

The Air Force will base the first European F-35As at RAF Lakenheath, United Kingdom, officials announced Thursday. The aircraft will arrive in phases beginning in 2020. Eventually a total of 48 F-35As will be based at Lakenheath, assigned to two fighters squadrons with 24 aircraft each, states the Jan. 8 release. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Air Force officials based the decision on Lakenheath’s air space, infrastructure, and combined training opportunities. “The F-35, a true fifth generation fighter, gives teeth to our ability to support collective defense of Europe and its partners,” said Gen. Frank Gorenc, commander of US Air Forces in Europe-Air Forces Africa. “It assures allies and partners alike and provides a credible deterrent.” The decision was announced along with the long-awaited results of the European Infrastructure Consolidation plan. Although the basing decision was not part of the two-year EIC study, the decision to close RAF Mildenhall and realign its missions allows for the two F-35A squadrons, said officials during a Jan. 8 Pentagon briefing. Officials previously announced plans to build shared F-35 maintenance facilities in Italy and Turkey. “When pilots from different nations fly the same platform they talk the same language,” said Gorenc. “Interoperability with F-35 partner nations is assured for decades.”