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Thursday, 13 September, 2001, 16:25 GMT 17:25 UK
'We're ready' says US air chief
USAF bases
The commander of the biggest US air base in Britain says his personnel are "very ready" to take action against the terrorists behind Tuesday's attacks in America.

Colonel John T Brennan said his RAF Lakenheath-based F-15 fighters were ready for action.

The base is home to the 48th Fighter Wing, the largest US air combat force in Europe.

Five F-15s arrived there on Thursday afternoon after being recalled from a Nato gathering in Norway.

There are a lot of people here who would like to be called upon to act against the perpetrators of these terrible crimes

Col John Brennan
Training flights at the base were suspended for 36 hours after the attacks in Washington and New York.

Colonel Brennan said: "We are very ready for action.

"We have only lost a couple of days' flying and we are fully operational.

"There are a lot of people here who would like to be called upon to act against the perpetrators of these terrible crimes."

'Awesome' aircraft

The base has 75 F-15s which are a combination of F-15C Eagle air-to-air fighters and F-15E Strike Eagle air-to-ground fighters.

"These two aircraft can be awesome if employed together," said Colonel Brennan.

"We are the only wing in the world to have this combination."

F-15C Eagle fighter
F-15C Eagle fighters fly out of Lakenheath
Three personnel at the base lost relatives in Tuesday's attacks.

The 48th Fighter Wing - also known as Liberty Flight - saw action in the Gulf War and conducted strikes over Bosnia and Kosovo.

The United States Air Force has two of its six main European bases on UK shores, at RAF Lakenheath and RAF Mildenhall in Suffolk.

US aircraft have also been flying into RAF Fairford, where 100m runway repairs are nearing completion.

Tripoli raids

The station's British commander, Squadron Leader John Morris, insisted they had simply been recalled from Operation Jackal Cave, which was cancelled in response to the tragedy.

Fairford was the launch pad for American bombing raids on Tripoli in 1986 and over the Balkans in the late 1990s.

There had been speculation that any target for a reprisal to the US attacks would be beyond the range of aircraft stationed in Britain.

Flowers outside RAF Mildenhall
Tributes were laid at RAF Mildenhall
But RAF Mildenhall - headquarters of America's 3rd Air Force - is the main permanent fuel tanker base for United States Air Forces in Europe (Usafe).

Spokesman Sergeant Tim Hoffman told BBC News Online it could enable bombers or fighters to reach virtually any spot on the globe without touching down.

He said: "We have just about all the air refuelling capability, so theoretically we could keep them in the air for as long as they need to stay up.

"They can basically get them just about anywhere where a refuelling tanker can meet them.

"Really, these days the only limitation is the crew - they can't stay up there forever."

Post-Cold War cuts

Usafe has six main bases across Europe, commanded from Ramstein in Germany.

Its main bases were cut by 67% after the end of the Cold War, but it maintains combat-ready wings spread from Britain to Turkey.

In all it has seven bases in Britain, some with only a small number of personnel.

The smaller ones are at Molesworth and Alconbury in Huntingdon, and Croughton, a communications base on the border of Oxfordshire and Northamptonshire.

RAF Feltwell is used as a US space monitoring station.

Usafe's mission includes supporting humanitarian and peacekeeping operations although the emphasis may be about to change after this week's attacks.

It has more than 35,000 military and civilian personnel serving in the 3rd Air Force and the 16th Air Force, whose HQ is in Italy.

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See also:

13 Sep 01 | Americas
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