NATO has added the UK to the list of countries where military infrastructure is being upgraded for nuclear weapons storage, the Federation of American Scientists (FAS) revealed citing the US administration’s 2023 defense budget request.
The list further includes Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, and Turkey, together hosting about 100 nuclear bombs in six US air bases, according to a FAS estimate.
US Air Base at RAF Lakenheath to Be Upgraded
The list didn’t specify the UK location where the upgrade is underway as part of a 13-year investment program.
However, the FAS estimated it as the US Air Base at Royal Air Force Lakenheath in southeast England, about 100 kilometers (62 miles) northeast of London.
The US Air Base used to have 33 underground storage vaults for nuclear weapons in the 1990s, and by the early 2000s, the vaults had 110 B61 gravity bombs for delivery by F-15E aircraft of the 48th Fighter Wing.
By 2008, the bombs were withdrawn following similar withdrawals from USAF bases in Germany and Greece in 2005 and 2001. At the time, it was believed the bombs had become “militarily obsolete,” giving rise to the hope of larger nuclear disarmament, The Guardian wrote.
It was the first time since 1954 that the US didn’t host a nuclear weapon in the UK.
More Sophisticated US Nuclear Response
Citing the director of the nuclear information project at the FAS, Hans Kristensen, The Guardian argued that the site upgrade will afford “more flexibility to move the nuclear weapons around Europe.”
“One of the things they have talked about is protecting the deterrent against Russia’s improved cruise missiles capabilities,” Kristensen said.
“So they could be trying to beef up the readiness of more sites without them necessarily receiving nukes, so that they have the options to move things around in a contingency if they need to.”
Expanding US Nuclear Presence in Europe
However, the war in Ukraine, which saw the Russian leadership using nuclear threat to keep NATO out of the conflict, is a setback to the nuclear disarmament.
The upgrade takes place at a time when Lakenheath air base has begun hosting the nuclear-capable F-35A Lightning aircraft, beginning December.
A total of 24 F-35As will be based as part of the 495th Fighter Squadron of the 48th Fighter Wing.
Moreover, the upgraded version of the B61, the B61-12, has entered production and could begin to be shipped to Europe from 2023.
The lower yield, guidance system-equipped B61-12 is more accurate and reliable than its predecessor which allows the US Air Force to deploy it for “low-yield nuclear attack, earth-penetrating strikes, above surface detonation, and bunker-buster explosions.”
According to National Interest, a lower yield nuclear bomb could work as a “possible deterrence against a more limited or tactical nuclear strike.”