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Programme HYDRA – new secure radar infrastructure for the Royal Air Force (RAF) 

FCDO Services has completed Programme HYDRA at the fourth and final in-scope Remote Radar Head at Neatishead in Norfolk.

FCDO Services was appointed Principal Designer and Principal Contractor for Programme HYDRA in 2019, following our previous success with Programme TARTARUS at Saxa Vord.

TARTARUS was the first project of this kind in the UK. It involved the design, construction and security provision for a remotely monitored RAF radar site.   

Programme HYDRA is the bespoke secure-build upgrade of Remote Radar Heads (RRHs) at four sites across the UK.

The newly built sites protect the radar equipment from both the elements and intruders, enabling them to be monitored centrally with only limited on-site radar maintenance support. This set up has enabled the release of RAF personnel previously based permanently at these sites.  

Four completed sites

The final major phase of this £48 million programme with the RAF is now complete, with delivery at the fourth RRH at Neatishead.

An additional project was delivered in parallel that built the secure infrastructure and 40 metre tower to enable collocation of communications equipment at a single radiosite nearby.

The three previously completed RRHs are at Brizlee Wood in Northumberland, Buchan in Aberdeenshire and Benbecula in the Outer Hebrides.  

Neatishead is a fitting location for the RAF to choose as its final secure radar site. The site has a rich history in the evolution of radar, particularly during the Cold War years.

Neatishead was selected by the RAF following a coastal erosion report completed by the programme that placed RRH Trimingham as a high risk site on which to retain the radar that has since been relocated to Neatishead. 

For Programme HYDRA, the FCDO Services team included a programme lead, project manager, architect, structural engineer, quantity surveyors and specialist security engineers. We worked collaboratively with our main contractors, Serco Ltd and other suppliers at all four sites.   

Our small, highly skilled team of experts had in-depth knowledge of the RAF’s needs and requirements for this project given their work on previous sites. They delivered the comprehensive brief to the highest standard, on budget and achieved key milestones without delay at each phase of the programme.  

Unique requirements for each site

Each site presented a very unique set of requirements, challenges and special considerations.

The team had to work with varying geological, ecological and environmental conditions, in some of the UK’s most remote locations.

During construction at the Brizlee Wood, Buchan and Benbecula sites the team faced and overcame significant challenges due to the COVID-19 pandemic.   

The flat lowland countryside in Norfolk, radar capability and site constraints at Neatishead also required specialist engagement with local planning and environmental authorities.   

The radar needed to be raised higher than at previous locations to see above surrounding buildings. The project architect designed the infrastructure as a two-storey tower with the service areas housed beneath the radome platform.  

There were several local area requirements, and maintaining good relations with the local community supported the success of this programme. Local residents were overwhelmingly supportive of the return of an operational Air Defence Radar to the area.  

Psychological safety at work

A report written by PA Consulting and the Ministry of Defence (MOD) identified the HYDRA team as one of the highest performing programme delivery teams in defence.

Led by the RAF, the HYDRA Programme has invested heavily in ‘Psychological Safety’ coaching and leadership mentoring. Psychological Safety is a concept that is being taken forward at pace by the MOD.

Its application aims to promote the willingness of individuals to take interpersonal risks within teams, including speaking up and raising risks and issues early, to enhance overall team performance.

The team attended workshops to identify what they did well, where they could improve and how to better support each other.

The team’s structure and open and supportive culture means individuals are empowered to raise concerns and put forward ideas and thoughts to the wider group.

Contributions and opinions are valued, and problems and challenges are faced together for the benefit of the programme. The application of Psychological Safety has contributed significantly to the sustained success and resilience of the team. 

FCDO Services has, once again, proven an extremely capable and reliable Principal Contractor for the RAF, throughout the HYDRA major infrastructure programme: delivered on time, within budget and to high quality, I could not have asked for more but have come to expect nothing less.”
Senior Responsible Owner, RAF