"The F-35, a true fifth-generation fighter, gives teeth to our ability to support collective defense of Europe and its partners," Gen. Frank Gorenc, U.S. Air Forces in Europe and Air Forces Africa commander, said in a news release.
The jets will begin arriving in 2020, with two fighter squadrons expected to arrive in multiple phases. The squadrons will include 24 jets each.
"Lakenheath is the perfect base for the perfect weapon system in the perfect country," said Col. Robert Novotny, 48th Fighter Wing commander, said in the release. "From the beginning, the United States and the United Kingdom have been side-by-side on F-35 program development. This is about continuing to work together with our allies and partners to ensure a secure future for Europe."
The Defense Department also plans to construct shared F-35 maintenance facilities in Italy and Turkey.
The decision comes following an Air Force announcement that it plans to base F-35s in the Pacific first at Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska, pending an environmental impact study. The first operational base in the United States for the jet will be Hill Air Force Base, Utah. The first base with an Air National Guard unit flying the F-35 will be at Burlington International Airport, Vermont.
Instructor pilot training for the jet has been underway at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida. Operational pilots will begin training this year at Luke Air Force Base, Arizona.