Flying start: Infrastructure works progressing at RAF Marham

As part of Project Anvil, over £200 million is being invested in infrastructure works to prepare RAF Marham for the arrival of the F-35B Lightning multi-role combat aircraft later this year. 

The F-35B Lightning II is the world’s most advanced, fifth-generation aircraft that the Royal Air Force and Royal Navy will jointly operate from both land and sea, forming an integral part of the UK’s carrier strike capability from both Queen Elizabeth Class aircraft carriers. 

When 617 Squadron arrive at RAF Marham this summer they will benefit from an extensive project which will include the construction of the management, maintenance, training and operational facilities required for the new aircraft, and the refurbishment of 90% of the airfield operating surfaces.  

Lieutenant Colonel Ian Jenkins, on-site project manager at RAF Marham for the Defence Infrastructure Organisation (DIO), explains the scope of the works being undertaken: “The project is very wide-ranging, we’re not just preparing for the arrival of the aircraft but also for all of the people who will operate it, and that means there’s a lot of infrastructure required. The work is all at different stages, depending on the complexity of each element and its place in the programme.” 

Project Anvil, named after a type of lightning, spans across the station with eight main development sites. Since works commenced RAF Marham has continued to deliver high-tempo Tornado GR4 operations. 

The first visible signs of the work taking place was the demolition of 3 Hangar to make way for the new Maintenance and Finishing Facility, which will provide the engineering support to the aircraft along with a bespoke finishing paint facility.  

Nearby the Lightning Operations Centre will be the headquarters for the Lightning Force and the Lightning Delivery Team for airworthiness and logistic support. This was the first building to be handed over. 

The beginning of February 2018 saw Her Majesty The Queen visit RAF Marham in her capacity as Honorary Air Commodore of the Station when she was invited to officially open the Lightning Operations Centre with the unveiling of a plaque commissioned by Lockheed Martin. 

The biggest area of work in the project is the resurfacing of the station’s Air Operating Surfaces, with the intersection of the two runways completed last October. The construction required a ‘no fly’ period of three weeks to allow DIO contractors, a joint venture between Galliford Try and Lagan Construction (GTLC), to complete the entire construction of this element of works. 

This phase included removing more than 13,000 tonnes of existing asphalt and installing 23 pits and 1.2km of ducting for aeronautical ground lighting. To resurface the runway, more than 18,000 tonnes of asphalt were laid over an area of nearly 38,000 square metres, equivalent to more than five rugby pitches. To achieve this within the required timescale the contractors worked in multiple shifts, seven days a week. 

GTLC are nearing completion on the first of the two runways. In an effort to improve efficiency, they have constructed two batching plants near the end of the runway, to allow the team to prepare the specific asphalt and concrete they need and dispatch it immediately to the work area. 

Work has also commenced on three new vertical landing pads, to allow the F-35B Lightning II aircraft to utilise their vertical-landing capabilities. 

On the south side of the airfield, the Integrated Training Centre (ITC) will provide UK Lightning maintainer training and house the Lightning Full Mission Simulators. 

There have been a number of enabling works and upgrades to the utilities and services with the most significant of these being the installation of a new transformer. Work has been taking place underground with over 10km of trenches dug to enable the new buildings to be connected to power, water supplies and communication networks. 

Lieutenant Colonel Ian Jenkins revealed that the installation of the F-35s’ internal power supply had yielded some unexpected discoveries. He said: “As part of the digging of the Multi Service Trench which will support the internal power supply for the F-35s, a contractor found 217 previously unmarked pipes and cables over a 200m stretch of ground. 

“Some of these were live electrical cables made of lead and paper dating back to the 1930s. No doubt, a site as old as Marham will throw up some more surprise findings throughout the project and these will be carefully managed by me, my team, and the contractors on the ground.”  

The refurbishment of 12 Hardened Aircraft Shelters, hangars which protect aircraft from attack, is also nearing completion. 

Elsewhere on-site, the Quick Reaction Force building is making good progress and will further enhance the provision of security at RAF Marham. 

Other buildings under construction are an Operational Conversion Unit, which will provide a hangar, offices and technical facilities; and a Feeder and Pilot Conditioning Facility containing a gymnasium and a small canteen to allow Lightning Force personnel to eat their meals near the aircraft rather than having to travel elsewhere on the station. 

As we edge closer to the arrival of 617 Squadron this summer, RAF Marham continues to operate the Tornado fleet and all associated functions. 

Lieutenant Colonel Ian Jenkins describes the process as “like adding extra cogs and springs to a clockwork watch while it continues to tick. ‘Complex’ isn’t an adequate word.” 

“We and our contractors are working hard. Not all of these buildings need to be complete by then, but obviously we want to continue to make good progress. “This critical infrastructure will enable and enhance the UK’s 21st century military capability.” 

image © Crown Copyright

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