The United States may be looking to station nuclear weapons in the United Kingdom for the first time in 15 years—and the move threatens to set off a tidal wave of controversy, backlash, and hostility from Russia, according to U.S. Air Force budget documents and experts.
Notes in a document detailing the U.S. Air Force budget for 2024 indicate that the Air Force has plans to construct what’s called a “surety dormitory” at Royal Air Force (RAF) Lakenheath, a base 70 miles northeast of London. It is the largest U.S. Air Force-operated base in England.
The plan is to “construct a 144-bed dormitory to house the increase in enlisted personnel as the result of the potential Surety Mission,” the document states.
This language is typical jargon that refers to the handling of nuclear weapons, according to Matt Korda, a senior research fellow for the Nuclear Information Project at the Federation of American Scientists, who first reported on the suspected changes from the Air Force.
“Surety is this word that is used within the DOD and the Department of Energy context specifically to refer to the maintenance and storage of nuclear weapons,” Korda, who previously worked for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in the Arms Control, Disarmament, and WMD Non-Proliferation Centre in Brussels, told The Daily Beast.
The Pentagon document also includes details about dormitory arrangements for “the influx of airmen” arriving for “surety mission,” adding that there “is a significant deficiency in the amount of unaccompanied housing” at the Lakenheath base.
If the Biden administration acts upon the plans, it would be the first time in the United States has deployed nuclear weapons to the UK since 2008, when President George W. Bush ordered a withdrawal of B61 munitions from Lakenheath.
The little-known update comes as Russian President Vladimir Putin has grown increasingly assertive about his nuclear arsenal, slinging nuclear threats left and right at NATO countries as his war against Ukraine rages on. In recent months, Moscow has made moves to deploy tactical nuclear weapons to Belarus, which neighbors the NATO countries of Poland, Latvia, and Lithuania, in addition to Ukraine.