Now home to four Typhoon fast-jet squadrons and soon, when major upgrade work at the base is completed, to be the home base for Royal Air Force Boeing P-8A Poseidon Maritime Patrol Aircraft (MPA) capability, the huge circa £470 million infrastructure development programme at RAF Lossiemouth in Moray, Scotland is now moving forward at a very fast pace.
Now the only remaining ‘Main Operating Air Base’ in Scotland, significant infrastructure investment was required not only to accommodate the standing up of UK Maritime Aircraft Capability following a gap of ten years but also for the increased number of Typhoon squadrons and aircraft that are now based at RAF Lossiemouth.
Almost 30 years since the base had operated larger non-combat aircraft such as the Avro Shackleton AEW2, in order to accommodate the eventual fleet of nine Boeing P-8A Poseidon aircraft together with the increased capacity required to facilitate additional Typhoon squadrons and aircraft and allow for other NATO users of Boeing Poseidon aircraft including the US Navy and Royal Norwegian Air Force us use the base, RAF Lossiemouth has been required to undergo a complete transformation whilst maintain full operating capability for Typhoon operation and training. Since 2014 RAF Lossiemouth has been one of two RAF bases responsible for ‘Quick Reaction Alert’ (QRA) – the other being RAF Coningsby in Lincolnshire.
The transformation of RAF Lossiemouth in order to accommodate a mix of ISTAR and combat jet platforms included a requirement for major infrastructure investment in base utilities such as improved drainage and power supplies and the building of purpose built facilities in order to handle a fleet of what will eventually be nine RAF P-8A Poseidon MPA aircraft – this has included hangars that combine maintenance, training, mission support – operated by 20 and 201 Squadrons.
The Lossiemouth Development Programme comprises an extremely complex and time sensitive series of projects that will, as mentioned, transform the base into a modern, high-tech military facility, one that when the programme is complete in 2023, will be equipped to face a full range of evolving challenges.
The £470 million being spent by the MOD in order to transform RAF Lossiemouth into a mixed next generation base of ISTAR and Combat Air will see the creation of around 550 additional permanent military posts created. Work currently under way and that will continue through the next three years until transformation is complete has seen employment of many hundreds of contractors and brought additional business to the Scotland economy. RAF Lossiemouth continues to be very important to the Scotland economy and the increase in permanent military personnel deployment and civilian staff will bring further benefits.
The transformation plan for RAF Lossiemouth has from the start been based around individual business cases being developed, discussed and agreed and that would, over a period of four years, require multiple concurrent construction projects taking place at the same time.
The transformation project is not just about providing state of the art operational facilities but also understanding the need for additional personnel accommodation to be constructed. This includes single living accommodation, family accommodation consisting of a new build of 279 houses, refurbishment of existing personnel facilities, services, upgrading of operational and mess facilities, particularly in order to accommodate 1X(B) Squadron (note that 1X (B) Squadron had operated Panavia Tornado GR4 aircraft until 2019 based at RAF Marham) which was last year relocated to RAF Lossiemouth following its stand up as one of the primary Typhoon FGR4 squadrons. Another very relevant feature to mention is the requirement for Feeder and Inflight Catering facilities.
Additionally, the development plan includes new Fire and Rescue facilities, a physical training and sports centre and eventually planned although not yet under construction, a long-discussed plan to replace the now somewhat elderly Air Traffic Control Tower at RAF Lossiemouth. Whilst no date has yet been decided in respect of the latter requirement, it is worth noting here that that the Royal Air Force has agreed to trial a ‘digital air traffic control tower’ at the Lossiemouth base and to that end, under a single-source experimental project, RAF Lossiemouth is to be used for the development of Saab UK based digital air traffic control (ATC) tower operational concept demonstrator. In order to facilitate this, a concrete pad will be laid in order to site necessary antenna equipment. Later this year the RAF intends to refine the operating concept for the digital ATC system in order to optimise performance.
Planning and ensuring that all development requirements are properly coordinated and set against agreed business plans, in order to ensure that all requirements are met on time and on budget the whole process has been operated through what is called the ‘Lossiemouth Development Plan’
In addition to what has already been mentioned the RAF Lossiemouth infrastructure investment plan required that main and secondary runways at the base would need to be resurfacing, a northern taxiway built along with a “C&D” checks aircraft servicing platform along with other large aircraft handling capability requirements, aircraft ground lighting and other minor yet important required airfield infrastructure work.
Runway resurfacing at RAF Lossiemouth for which the DIO awarded £75 million contracts to VolkerFitzpatrick Ltd in August last year, requires that for a period during the summer of this year Typhoon squadron operations including RAF Lossiemouth’s QRA (Quick Reaction Alert) Typhoon based operation and requirement will be temporarily moved to the now former RAF base at Leuchars near St Andrews for a short period and where this important facility had been previously based until September 2014.
Royal Air Force P-8A capability is expected to remain based at the former RAF Kinloss base nearby until later this year although it is worth noting that although unlikely to be required, contingency plans exist for both Leuchars and Kinloss ‘bolthole’ operations (both are now Army bases) to be extended into 2021 should this be necessary.
Team Lossiemouth Development Programme (LDP)
Directly responsible to Air Officer Commanding No 1 Group, now AVM Al Marshall, the Programme Management Office (PMO) is responsible for pan programme alignment & coherence, holding to account of contractors and all involved, assurance, support to effective decision making, risks, issues and progress management and finally, lead programme battle rhythm. The Programme Director is Group Captain Simon Strasdin who the writer knows well.
Separately, the roles and responsibilities of the Lossiemouth Transition Team (LTT) which through the Station Commander, Group Captain Layden and respective Typhoon/ISTAR Force Commanders also report directly through to AOC1 Group AVM Al Marshall, include support to station output, Business Change Management, SME Advise to LDP and other programmes, Conduit to the Station itself, Identification of Needs and Requirements, Sustaining and Maintaining and acts as the principle on-Station contact for all contractors working on site.
Of note too is that the Air Capability Delivery Programme Team which is also based at RAF Lossiemouth, coordinates individual projects across Defence lines of Development (DLOD’s) – these covering all aspects of Training, Equipment, Personnel, Infrastructure, Doctrine and Concepts Organisation, Information and Logistics – on behalf of the Senior Responsible Owner (SRO) to work towards a common goal.
My intention in writing this piece was from the start to provide detail in respect of the Lossiemouth Development Programme as opposed to writing in detail about the important new Boeing P8-A Poseidon capability that is, the first two aircraft having already been delivered, is already in operation from Kinloss. However, it would be wrong if I failed to include some detail about this vital and much needed restoration of Maritime Patrol Aircraft capability.
With the first two Boeing built P-8A Poseidon aircraft for the Royal Air Force having been delivered during February and April respectively – these operated by 54 Squadron and 120 Squadron – to the former RAF Kinloss base (now Kinloss Barracks) which as mentioned, will remain the temporary home for the capability until the infrastructure work at RAF Lossiemouth is complete and a third near complete P-8A aircraft having been formally named this week, the Royal Air Force has already declared ‘Initial Operating Capability’ (IOC) for the Poseidon P-8A Mk1 Maritime Patrol Aircraft.
When all nine aircraft have been delivered by November 2023, the RAF fleet of P-8A Poseidon aircraft capability will not only strengthen UK national maritime security but, as it patrols the seas, is designed to hunt potentially hostile submarines and play a major role defending the UK nuclear submarine deterrent.
Critical to NATO and our allies and with cutting-edge technology to detect, identify and monitor hostile contacts both above and below the sea the aircraft will carry up to 129 sonobuoys in order to assist the search for enemy submarines. P-8A Poseidon can also be armed with Mk54 torpedoes if required to attack enemy submarines. Already in service with the US Navy and Royal Australian Air Force, Boeing P-8A Poseidon is a well-established and proven capability. For the record. P8-A Poseidon MPA aircraft have a mission endurance of about 10 hours.
The Royal Norwegian Air Force and Royal New Zealand Air Force are also in the process of procuring Boeing P-8A Poseidon capability and it is worth recording here that Royal Air Force P8-A Poseidon capability will have access to NATO airbases that will allow them to refuel, re-arm or replenish sonobuoys. Operating agreements exist that will allow US Navy, Royal Norwegian Air Force Norwegian and Royal Air Force P8-A Poseidon aircraft to share the support facilities at Evenes in Northern Norway, Keflavik, Iceland and at RAF Lossiemouth.
Designed also to eventually work hand in hand with the planned Royal Navy fleet of 8 Type 26 frigates and having a comprehensive mission system that features APY-10 radar with modes for high-resolution mapping, an acoustic sensor system, including passive and multi-static sonobuoys, electro-optical/IR turret and electronic support measures (ESM). This equipment delivers comprehensive search and tracking capability, while the aircraft’s weapons system includes torpedoes for engaging sub-surface targets.
The initial two Royal Air Force P8-A Poseidon aircraft delivered have been allocated to 120 (CXX) Squadron and my understanding is that 201 Squadron will be stood up in 2021. 54 Squadron (Poseidon Flight) will be the Operational Conversion Unit based at RAF Lossiemouth (54 Squadron is the parent OCU for all RAF ISTAR aircraft based at Waddington). The first P-8A- Poseidon crews trained with VP-30 at the US Naval Air Station Jacksonville in Florida. Training will I understand be relocated to the UK in 2021.
Royal Air Force P8-A instructors are currently still serving with VP-30 along while RAF personnel continue to be embedded with Air Test and Evaluation Squadron VX-1 at NAS Patuxent River supporting the aircraft’s development programme. All will I believe be relocated back to RAF Lossiemouth in 2021. VX-1 also contributes expertise to TRINATS, the Five-Eyes MPA trials and testing cooperation forum. As a member of the Five-Eyes intelligence alliance, the UK benefits from shared international expertise and experience of MPA and ASW operations.
It is also worth noting that in addition to MOD investment both the US Government and Boeing are also investing at RAF Lossiemouth. To that end the USG has authorised the spending of almost $80m on “military construction” the bulk of which relates to US Navy improvements plans required at the station in order to facilitate visiting US Navy aircraft and crews. The USG funding also includes a contribution towards a refurbishment of the RAF Lossiemouth runway, additional aircraft parking and hangar space and accommodation.
Separately, Boeing plans to invest £100 million at RAF Lossiemouth in order to provide P8-A support and training and that this will in turn create 100 new jobs. Boeing has also said that it wants the UK to be its European base for training, maintenance, repair and overhaul for fixed-wing and rotary platforms.
The speed at which and the progress of the Lossiemouth The contribution of $80m from the US to the home of our submarine-hunters at RAF Lossiemouth will support our partnership with our closest ally and will help us be more efficient by sharing improved facilities, and will see us patrol the seas together to have more eyes and ears on any aggressors.
The “Lossiemouth Development Programme (LDP) has so far been a delight for me to personally observe. Having less than ten years ago at the request of senior members of the Royal Air Force spent a considerable length of time at RAF Lossiemouth engaging and flying with all the various squadrons based there including also the RAF Regiment, a vital element of Force Protection together with all the various base services including fire, church, medical and child nursery, this is a base that I got to know very well. When I revisit the base later this year, I expect to see considerable change from the hitherto Tornado GR4 base that I had known well. I will no-doubt write again on the subject following that visit.
Keen readers of this piece will note that I have not yet mentioned the impact of COVID-19 on the LDP process and while there will undoubtedly have been some delays caused, at this stage I do not believe that COVID-19 appears to have been a major relevance
Given that it is little more than two years since the then Defence Secretary, Gavin Williamson cut the first turf of the £132 million main facility being built at RAF Lossiemouth to accommodate P-8A Poseidon capability (April 2018) progress has been remarkable.
I have deliberately decided against including provisional timetables for the various delivery tranches of the Lossiemouth Development Programme or indeed, the risk register. Clearly, as with any significant and detailed programme such as this, there are bound to be issues, delays and the possibility of some aspects being pushed back or delayed for other reasons. We should be very satisfied that due to Group Captain Simon Strasdin and his team in particularly, the Lossiemouth Development Programme has already achieved some very significant goals and is on course to achieve a lot more.
In respect of how the US Government has, through the US Navy, been so absolutely brilliant in allowing RAF ‘seedcorn’ crews to be trained on P8-A aircraft – flying at medium and low level over the sea training in all aspects of Anti-Submarine Warfare and Anti-Surface Warfare. UK ‘seedcorn’ crews, members of CXX Squadron, have since 2012, been based at the Naval Air Station Jacksonville, Florida and which I visited a few years ago to spend time with them. None of this would have been achieved without considerable assistance provided by our major US allies.
Apart for thanking Group Captain Simon Strasdin for his superb work both in relation to Lossiemouth Development Programme may I also thank Squadron Leader Mark Faulds who has in the years he has been engaged in leading the RAF P-8A ‘seedcorn’ training programme at Jacksonville done a brilliant job of work.
And last but by no means least, while Air Vice Marshall A. P Marshall has just taken over as Air Officer Commanding No 1 Group and will play an extremely important role in seeing the Lossiemouth Development Programme through to near completion, it would be remiss of me not to thank his immediate predecessor, Air Vice Marshal Harvey Smith for the superb job that he has done to push the LDP through to its present excellent status.
CHW (London – 4th June 2020)
Howard Wheeldon FRAeS
Wheeldon Strategic Advisory Ltd,
M: +44 7710 779785