No 'immediate' closure plans for Wattisham base, says Defence Secretary
Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson said there were 'no immediate plans' to close Wattisham Airfield when he met personnel of 3 Regiment Army Air Corps and Apache helicopters of 663 Squadron there today.
The personnel are flying to a three-month deployment, as part of the NATO's Enhanced Forward Presence (eFP), which is a deterrence and defence mission in Poland, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia where the Apaches are being deployed to.
Mr Williamson, who arrived by Chinook helicopter, said: "I feel incredibly proud, as the person who made the decision to send them to Estonia as part of NATO's eFP, you feel a sense of responsibility to those service personnel who are being deployed,
"It is really amazing to speak to them and to hear as to what they are doing, the enthusiasm they have about the deployment and the training experiences they are going to get out of this."
Canada, Germany, the UK and the United States are the framework nations for the multinational presence and the secretary of state felt with the deployment, which made the UK the largest contributor to the eFP, it sent a clear message.
He said: "We stand by our allies, we are working together as a military alliance to deter threats and that so many nations, whether it is Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and so many others constantly feel in terms of their near neighbour Russia.
"It is about deterrence and it is about deterring people. The Apache is one of the most formidable weapons and one of the most formidable helicopters anywhere in the world and does send a clear message of NATO alliance and unity."
Mr Williamson also felt that the importance of the base in East Anglia was not to be underestimated.
He said: "Wattisham is incredibly important strategically and the contribution Wattisham makes, but as well as so many other bases right across the country in terms of the defence for the United Kingdom, it is absolutely vital,
"We often focus on the aircraft, the helicopter, but what is really important is to remember the people, it is the pilots, it is the people who are servicing and maintaining these aircraft- they are the ones that make the real difference and I am incredibly grateful and I am sure the whole nation is for the work that they do."
There were fears about the Wattisham base after reports that the Ministry of Defence was looking at reducing the number of helicopter bases across the UK as they were looking at cost effectiveness, infrastructure and equipment.
The Cabinet member said: "We are always looking very much to the future and looking at how we best invest, but as yet I do not think there are any immediate plans to be closing Wattisham, or anything else like that.
"People often have a lot of speculation around bases but we certainly do not have any plans to make any changes here, MP Jo Churchill has raised this with me and I know it is something very important to her, we certainly do not have any plans to make any changes here whatsoever."