RAF Wyton - the PRIDE of Huntingdonshire

The multi-million-pound transformation to make RAF Wyton the home of British military intelligence is almost complete. CATHERINE BELL was invited to look round the top secret facility before staff move in and begin their vital work to support frontline troops.

THE closure of RAF Brampton could have signalled the beginning of the end for the Royal Air Force in Huntingdonshire.

RAF Upwood was abandoned decades ago and Alconbury airfield is set to enjoy a new lease of life as an Enterprise Zone.

The nationwide “draw down” of the military, following the Government’s cut in its defence budget, is being felt by all three services.

However, RAF Wyton is bucking the trend in a big way.

The Programme to Rationalise and Integrate the Defence Intelligence Estate (PRIDE) has been redeveloping the site to accommodate “significant elements” of the Joint Forces Intelligence Group (JFIG), as well as personnel from RAF Brampton.

It features 14 major new buildings, including the Pathfinder Building - the focal point of the �308million project programme that will place all a large proportion of the UK’s intelligence organisations in one purpose-built facility for the first time.

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The building manages to feel like a hangar at the same time as a heavily-protected bunker and features an awe-inspiring open-plan office for some 500 people.

The construction contract was won by SKANSKA UK plc, which started work in 2009. The buildings were The Pathfinder Building was handed over in January of this year – on time and within budget. The other buildings are likely to be handed over by SKANSKA ahead of time in mid 2013.

The Pathfinder Building will be home to the Defence Geospatial Intelligence Fusion Centre (DGIFC), which was formed in July this year after the formal retiring of the unit’s previous title, JARIC.

JFIG will be lead led by Brigadier Nick Davies, who will be moving to RAF Wyton with his army Joint Forces unit from Feltham to take advantage of the state-of-the-art technology in the new facility.

Brig Davies said bringing all the intelligence partners together – including MOD staff, NATO representatives and Commonwealth partners – would allow decision makers to work more effectively and provide better support from the UK to frontline troops in places such as Afghanistan.

“One thing we are trying to do is capture all the positive lessons learned in terms of intelligence from operations in Afghanistan and Libya, everything we have been doing in the last 10 years,” Brigadier Davies said.

Station commander Commanding Officer at RAF Wyton, Wing Commander Mike Brown, said: “Over the next couple of years we’re talking about 1,000 more people coming onto the station – that will be a mixture of military and MOD civilian staff.

“It’s fantastic that the station has a long-term future assured now - it’s going to be as big as it once was as a flying station.”

Naming the new building after the iconic Second World War unit ensures the history and heritage of Wyton is maintained.

Wing Commander Brown added: “What we mustn’t do is lose touch with the heritage of this place.

“We are developing a heritage centre right at the centre of this site, bringing together all of the memorabilia, including from Pathfinder, JARIC the Pathfinder and Medmenham Collections. We will create a timeline from Wyton’s creation where people can walk in and see right through to its future.”

Brig Davies said: “From a UK Defence Intelligence perspective, this is the first time we have purpose built a facility to get different organisations working together in one centre.

“We’ve learnt hard lessons from other campaigns but they put us in a much better position going forward.”

Some 1,600 staff will have relocated to RAF Wyton from Brampton, MOD Feltham in Middlesex, Hermitage in Berkshire and Monchengladbach in Germany. The new facilities will be fully operational by September 2014, the Station strength numbering in excess of 2,000 personnel.

Brig Davies said: “This is a long-term station. The investment here makes that pretty clear… Buildings like this have a minimum 20-year-plus life cycle to them. So while there are no promises in any of this, from a defence perspective we wouldn’t have invested that amount of money in this type of facility if we didn’t plan on staying here.”