RAF Stafford was officially closed yesterday at a ceremony to formally launch Britain's first Eurofighter squadron.

The Midland base, earmarked for closure as part of a Government defence review in 2004, had been home to the RAF's 450-strong Air Combat Service Support Unit.

No 3 (Fighter) Squadron, currently a Harrier squadron based at RAF Cottesmore near Oakham, Rutland, is becoming the first operational squadron of Typhoon - as the British Eurofighter is known.

The new squadron will be based at RAF Coningsby in Lincolnshire, although it will not be ready for operations until next year.

Yesterday's event also marked the closure of two other bases RAF Sealand and the airfield at RAF Coltishall, as part of the Government's 2004 review.

Air Chief Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup, Chief of the Air Staff, Admiral Sir Jonathan Band, First Sea Lord and other senior staff hosted the ceremony in Rutland to mark the formation of the new Typhoon squadron.

It will also see the formation of 800 Naval Air Squadron as part of Joint Force Harrier; and the stand-up of the Royal Air Force's Expeditionary Air Wings.

Joint Force Harrier is the Government's 2004 defence proposal to rearrange the Harrier fleets of the RAF and the Fleet Air Arm under a single command structure, ready to be phased out by 2012 and replaced with the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.

The #45 million Eurofighter is one of the most controversial combat aircraft built because of difficulties in cost and delays in manufacture.

The Typhoon was designed during the Cold War, with European leaders eager to outgun the Soviets in the sky.

With that threat gone, every effort has since been made to convert the aircraft for a more modern environment.