VIDEO: Marham boss ‘excited’ over Lightning work

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Re-development work worth hundreds of millions of pounds will keep West Norfolk at the forefront of British defence for decades to come, according to service chiefs.

Over the next two years, RAF Marham is set to be transformed into the high-tech, top secret home of the nation’s new Lightning II fighter jet force.

RAF Marham Lighting Infrastructure Update on site.
In front of the Hanger which is being demolished are, Air Commodore Harv Smyth, Lightning Force Commander (right) and  Group Captain Rich Davies, RAF Marham Station Commander (left) ANL-160513-162619009

RAF Marham Lighting Infrastructure Update on site. In front of the Hanger which is being demolished are, Air Commodore Harv Smyth, Lightning Force Commander (right) and Group Captain Rich Davies, RAF Marham Station Commander (left) ANL-160513-162619009

The project moved into a new phase on Friday when work to demolish a hangar first built in the 1930s began, to make way for one of the new facilities that are needed around the base.

And the station’s commander, Group Captain Rich Davies, said: “It’s a very, very exciting time for us.

“The capability that will be flying from here is absolutely cutting edge.

“It will put the UK right at the forefront of defence across the world.”

RAF Marham Lighting Infrastructure Update on site.
Hanger which is being demolished, work underway. ANL-160513-162734009

RAF Marham Lighting Infrastructure Update on site. Hanger which is being demolished, work underway. ANL-160513-162734009

The work, which has been headed Project Anvil, is being undertaken to make Marham the headquarters of the UK’s new fleet of Lightning fighter jets, the first of which are expected to arrive in the summer of 2018.

An investment package worth around £300 million was announced by prime minister David Cameron during a visit to Marham last year.

But further contracts are set to be awarded later this year, which will mean the total amount spent could reach £450 million.

Only five years ago, the very future of the base was in doubt, prompting a major campaign to save it.

But Air Commodore Harvey Smyth, a former Marham commander who is now leading the Lightning force, said: “We’re going to futureproof the station for the next 50 years.”

Eight sites are to be developed around the base in order to accommodate two front-line squadrons and a training squadron, which are expected to be in place by 2023, plus a host of training, support and logisitical facilities.

Ninety per cent of the station’s runways will also be refurbished, while several new pads will be installed to enable crews to practice vertical take-offs and landings.

The Lightning jets are designed to be deployable from both land and sea and defence chiefs mean their stealth capability, which means they cannot be seen on radar installations, means crews will be able to fly into more dangerous areas than they have been able to previously.

Although further testing will be needed once the jets are delivered, officials hope to decalre land capability by the end of 2018 and sea capability by 2020.

However, because of the advanced nature of the technology, much of the detail of the planes remains classified. Additional security measures will be installed around the new facilities.

Hundreds of workers will be developing the new facilities at RAF Marham in preparation for the arrival of the new Lightning force.

Around 300 staff are currently working on the project and that figure is set to increase to 1,200, as the pace of the work intensifies.

Six main contractors are working on the project at the same time.

And two new entrances are being created off the A1122 for construction traffic in a bid to minimise disruption to the rest of the base and to the public.

Group Captain Davies said: “The amount of work that’s going on here over the next 18 months, I don’t underestimate the challenge. It will clearly affect the local population.”

But, while the building work continues, the station remains operational with Tornado units that will remain in active service for another three years.

Jets from Marham are currently engaged in the international campaign against the so-called Islamic State, also known as Daesh, in Iraq and Syria.

And Air Commodore Smyth said: “What we’re doing with the Tornadoes in the Middle East is massively important for the UK, so we must sustain that.”

Around 15 per cent of each Lightning jet is made in the UK and around 20,000 British jobs depend on the programme.