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RAF Menwith Hill Air Force Harrogate, United Kingdom US Military Bases in the United Kingdom


RAF Menwith Hill is a co-base run by the United States of America and the United Kingdom. It is located in the central part of the kingdom, in North Yorkshire. The military base deals with intelligence and communication services. It is said to be the widest and most important monitoring site in the world. It hosts a few massive satellite grounds, not to mention about some missile warning services. Unlike most co-bases run by the Americans in Europe, this works in a different way. It is entirely run by the British Royal Air Force, but most of the services are provided by the Americans – the US Air Force. At the same time, the base is part of a comprehensive ECHELON system.


The history of the installation dates back to 1954. The British War Office has decided to purchase a little under 550 acres. Instead of using it for a local base, the land was given to the American through a leasing contract. The American idea was to increase its military power during the Cold War. The first service on site included a high frequency monitoring system, dealing with intercepting the signals throughout the Soviet Union. The whole system started working after 1958 only.


By 1966, the American ruling was significantly decreased. The NSA – National Security Agency – decided to take over the base. Instead of monitoring the Soviet Union only, the system was improved in order to intercept all the signals going throughout the British territories. The base went through a series of updates in order to fulfill its new mission. It was also expanded. Those times saw the first truly advanced computers as well. As a matter of fact, RAF Menwith Hill was among the first sites in the world to benefit from the advanced IBM computers.


Over the history, the ECHELON system was the subject of a huge controversy due to its monitoring power. With all these, the European Parliament decided it is legit and actually useful for the overall safety measures in the area. The ’70s saw a new round of updates. The site was improved with a huge satellite dish for communications. There were only eight such dishes in the world at those times. This was the first one.


Although the American influence in the area was always pretty important, the natives have never agreed with such bases on their territories. Plenty of demonstrations took place around the United Kingdom and around the entire Europe. Most of the protests targeted the missile defense strategies. Over the last years, the hate towards the Americans reached new limits, as many demonstrators stormed the fence around the military bases. Many of the actions still continue today.


The American Air Force unit hosted on site is the 421-st Air Base Group. At the same time, the garrison hosted here is the 451-st Intelligence Squadron. Both units operate in a very tight collaboration to fulfill the mission of the base. At the same time, RAF Menwith Hill also hosts some employed civilians.