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Programme HYDRA – secure construction for the Royal Air Force at RRH Benbecula

Programme HYDRA has created remotely operated secure radar stations for the Royal Air Force (RAF) to enable the release of RAF personnel from radar maintenance activity.

The RAF appointed FCDO Services as Principal Designer and Contractor for this multi-site programme in 2019, following previous success with Programme TARTARUS at Saxa Vord. Our role included Programme Management services for the design and construction of all HYDRA Phase One sites and we mobilised multidisciplinary teams to plan, manage and monitor the works.

We successfully delivered Remote Radar Head (RRH) Brizlee Wood (Northumberland) in 2020, Buchan (Aberdeenshire) in 2021 and works at RRH Benbecula (Outer Hebrides) commenced in May 2021. We achieved Initial Operating Capability in September 2021, following successful completion of a new secure compound with a tower to hold the radar and radome. Further works to install a new communications building and bespoke tall communications mast were completed in March 2022.

Benbecula is a small island of the Outer Hebrides in the Atlantic Ocean off the west coast of Scotland, and the team faced challenging logistics and weather conditions as well as strict COVID-19 restrictions on the island throughout delivery.

On the ground at Benbecula

Along with our Site Management team, an RAF Liaison Officer and our main contractor JRC were based on site and lived locally for the duration of the works.

Working on site in such a remote location involves careful and detailed planning at any time, and even more so during a global pandemic. We worked hard to establish good relationships with the local community and consulted with a number of island leaders, including local businesses and services.

Maintaining regular contact with local people was crucial for planning travel and accommodation logistics, deliveries to site and communicating our COVID-19 safety procedures. Our aim was to minimise disruption to islanders as far as possible and operate considerately.

COVID-19 protocols protected islanders and our workforce

In addition to the usual rigorous safety standards for a programme such as this, the HYDRA team developed and implemented detailed procedures and policy-compliant ‘COVID-secure’ environments at Benbecula, as it had previously across the other two RRH sites. These measures enabled work to continue safely on site throughout the pandemic, with all visitors to site following protocols and site operating procedures.

Having such careful controls in place meant that when an outbreak did occur on site, it was quickly identified and contained, and therefore didn’t impact the local island population. Despite the outbreak causing disruption at a critical phase of the works, our dedicated team and main contractors quickly made up for delays ensuring the programme was still completed on time.

Our Directors visited Benbecula during the build phase to see how the site was developing, and to gain more insight into what this complex programme involved. The visit enabled them to meet members of the programme team and to better understand some of the unique challenges that had to be overcome in order to complete the works on time.

Maintaining the standard

We were delighted to successfully complete this complicated infrastructure programme for the RAF, on time, and to a high standard, with excellent feedback from our customer. Our team expertly navigated the environmental challenges of the site location in the Outer Hebrides, and the challenges of COVID-19.

Pending planning permission, our programme team are embarking upon the delivery of works at RRH Neatishead (Norfolk) in the second and final phase of Programme HYDRA.

“Following on so closely from the successful completion of the HYDRA works at the previous two sites, it is exceptional against the backdrop of COVID-19 and other significant challenges that HYDRA has been implemented at RRH Benbecula ahead of schedule and to such an exemplary standard.”

Group Captain, Royal Air Force