|Near Boulmer, Northumberland in England|
Semper in exubitu vigilans
(Latin for Always the Vigilant Sentry)
|Type||Royal Air Force station|
|Owner||Ministry of Defence|
|Operator||Royal Air Force|
|Controlled by||No. 11 Group (Multi-domain Operations)|
|Size||1100 Service personnel, civil servants and contractors|
|Built||1940 (Original site)|
1953 (Current site)
|In use||1940-1945 (Original site)|
1953-present (Current site)
|Group Captain K S 'Chesh' Cowieson MA MBA MSc BSc RAF|
|Identifiers||ICAO: EGQM, WMO: 03240|
|Elevation||24 metres (79 ft) AMSL|
Royal Air Force Boulmer or RAF Boulmer //[note 1] is a Royal Air Force station near Alnwick in Northumberland, England, and is home to Aerospace Surveillance and Control System (ASACS) Force Command, Control and Reporting Centre (CRC) Boulmer. The School of Aerospace Battle Management and support staff was based there until 26 July 2019; it has since moved to RAF Shawbury. Until 30 September 2015, it was also home to A Flight, No. 202 Squadron RAF, who flew the Westland Sea King HAR.3 in the SAR (Search and Rescue) role.
- 1 History
- 2 Based units
- 3 Operations
- 4 Other facilities
- 5 Affiliations
- 6 See also
- 7 Notes
- 8 References
- 9 External links
Second World War
In 1940 a decoy airfield was set up near the village of Boulmer to divert German attacks from nearby Royal Air Force (RAF) airfields such as RAF Acklington. As the air threat to the United Kingdom receded, the decoy airfield, with its grass runways and plywood and canvas Hurricanes, was abandoned. In March 1943 RAF Boulmer was re-opened as a satellite airfield to house the advanced flights of No. 57 Operational Training Unit RAF (a Supermarine Spitfire training unit based at RAF Eshott, Boulmer's parent unit). During this period, there were three tarmac runways and a unit of the RAF Regiment defended the Station. In November 1943 RAF Boulmer became home to No 9 Battle Training School, in which night flying, dive-bombing, strafing, bouncer, and chase tactics were taught. As the war ended the airfield closed, reverting to agricultural use. Part of the airfield formed the basis of a caravan site with the runway and taxiway being used as an access road to the site. The site remains and is called Seaton Park.
By 1950, the threat of the Atomic bomb had caused a serious rethink in the organisation of air defence and a plan, codenamed ROTOR, was brought in to replace many of the existing stations with new protected underground operations rooms. The site chosen for one of these new underground Ground-controlled interception (GCI) stations was close to the former RAF Boulmer which had been returned to agriculture at the end of the Second World War.
The station was to have a two level underground operations room designated as an R3. The R3 was never intended to survive a direct hit from a nuclear weapon but was designed to withstand a near miss from Russian bombing with 2,200 lb armour-piercing high explosive bombs dropped from 35,000 feet.
A target date for completion of the station was set as 21 August 1953 and although not complete, the station opened on time with limited capabilities using an American AN/FPS3 long-range search radar and an AN/TPS10 height finder. The station became known as 500 Signals Unit under the control of RAF Acklington and part of 13 Group - the station motto 'Semper in excubitu vigilans' is taken from 500 Signals Unit Badge. On completion of the R3 in September 1954 the station became fully operational and RAF Boulmer became an independent unit for the first time.
In the autumn of 1957 RAF Boulmer was designated a Group Control Centre, with responsibility for the RAF Radar Stations at Buchan and Killard Point. By 1958, Boulmer was selected to be upgraded with the installation of the more modern high powered Type 84 Surveillance radar. This increased the range of detection and was able to penetrate the latest Soviet jamming technology.
In 1971 Border Radar was established at Boulmer, this was a joint military/civil facility providing air traffic control services to co-ordinate civil and military traffic. Although still operational until the late 1980s, the unit closed when all Area Air Traffic Services were centralised between West Drayton and Prestwick.
By 1974 the Station had evolved to become both a Sector Operations Centre (SOC) and Control and Reporting Centre (CRC). During this time, fighter controllers from Boulmer routinely detected Soviet aircraft probing the UK Air Defence Region and scrambled Quick Reaction Alert aircraft to intercept them before they reached UK airspace.
In 1978 RAF Boulmer took on a new additional role as a search and rescue station following the closure of RAF Acklington, a role that it fulfilled until 30 September 2015. Initially the station was equipped with Westland Whirlwind helicopters however in December 1978 the station was re-equipped with the more capable Westland Sea King aircraft.
The next major change came in 1982 when the R3 bunker was vacated and work begun to upgrade it to an R3A. During this period the CRC was relocated to an above ground facility while the work was carried out.
In 1990, Boulmer's links with Air Defence was reinforced by the arrival of the School of Fighter Control from RAF West Drayton. Following an extensive refurbishment the bunker was returned to operations in 1993. However, with the end of the Cold War the CRC was used in a standby role only with the homeland defence task being conducted from RAF Buchan and RAF Neatishead.
Post Cold War
In 1994, No. 1 Air Control Centre (No 1 ACC) reformed at RAF Boulmer, providing the Royal Air Force with a highly capable, rapidly deployable fielded air command and control capability. Later equipped with BAE Systems Type 101 Air Defence Radars, they played a key role in Operation TELIC following the Anglo-American invasion of Iraq.
In 2002, the Station began a major refurbishment of the underground bunker and installation of new equipment as part of the UKADGE Capability Maintenance Programme (UCMP). Valued at £60 million, the first phase of the programme was declared operational at RAF Boulmer on 16 August 2004.
In 2004 RAF Boulmer's newly refurbished NATO Control Reporting Centre (CRC) took over all air defence functions previously administered by the CRCs at RAF Buchan and RAF Neatishead. As the main CRC in the UK, Boulmer has responsibility for 24-hour surveillance of the UK's airspace, as well as liaison with NATO allies around Europe, to maintain an effective air defence cover for NATO's Air Policing Area 1.
In late July 2004 it was announced that RAF Boulmer would close by 2012, with the majority of its functions transferring to RAF Scampton. The first action taken in response to this announcement was for No 1 ACC to move to RAF Kirton in Lindsey, a former RAF Fighter Command airfield in Lincolnshire. This would bring the Air Command and Control elements of the Air Surveillance and Control System (ASACS) (the new CRC at RAF Scampton) geographically closer to the ISTAR elements such as the E3 Sentry AWACS force at RAF Waddington. No 1 ACC's move to Kirton was completed in early 2005. Later that same year, a review was announced into the decision to close Boulmer.
On 10 January 2008 it was announced that a study had been conducted into where to locate the elements of the Air Surveillance and Control System (ASACS). The results concluded that the best option in both financial and operational terms is to retain RAF Boulmer as the ASACS hub and as a result the station would stay open beyond 2012.
'A' Flight was one of the three operational flights of No. 202 Squadron RAF and was based at RAF Boulmer. The flight was commanded by a Squadron Leader and consisted of approximately 20 aircrew, 30 engineers and 8 support staff. Using the ageing – but highly capable – Sea King HAR.3 helicopter, 'A' Flight provided round-the-clock search and rescue cover for a large area, stretching from Fife in the north to Hartlepool in the south and encompassing the Lake District in the west. The eastern boundary was very fluid with flights having been known to end up in Norway following a rescue.
On 30 September 2015 'A' Flight of No. 202 Squadron departed RAF Boulmer and the provision of SAR from RAF Boulmer ceased. SAR is now delivered by HM Coastguard through a contract with Bristow Helicopters.
The RAF School of Aerospace Battle Management (SABM), formerly the School of Fighter Control (SFC), was located at RAF Boulmer from 1990 to 2019. The school became part of the Defence College of Air and Space Operations on its creation in April 2016. The SABM played a central part in delivering the training required for Weapons Controllers and Identification Officers of the Air Operations Branch and airmen and airwomen of the Air and Space Operations Specialists (Aerospace Systems) Trade Group. The school moved to RAF Shawbury in Shropshire in August 2019.
The following notable flying and non-flying units are based at RAF Boulmer.
Royal Air Force
- Control and Reporting Centre (NATO Air Policing Area 1)
- ASACS Engineering and Logistics Squadron
- Engineering Squadron Headquarters
- Communications and Information Systems Flight
- Radar Flight (North)
- Radar Flight (South)
- UK Air Surveillance and Control Systems (ASACS)
RAF Boulmer's mission statement is to 'generate and sustain an operationally agile air command and control capability.'
Air Surveillance and Control Systems Force Command
Homeland defence of the UK, remains the cornerstone of the ASACS Force Command's operational output. However, the ASACS Force Command also has a wider responsibility in support of deployed operations worldwide. With the stand up of the ASACS Force Command Headquarters at RAF Boulmer in January 2006, the Station Commander also has the operational role of ASACS Force Commander responsible for the generation, sustainment and operational output of the ASACS organisation.
According to the Daily Telegraph, there were 187 interceptions between 2005 and 2016. The work is now shared between Boulmer and RAF Scampton.
The Force Elements under the control of the ASACS Force Commander are:
- Control and Reporting Centre – RAF Boulmer
- No. 1 Air Control Centre – RAF Scampton
- Remote Radar Head (RRH) Benbecula in the Outer Hebrides
- RRH Saxa Vord in the Shetlands
- RRH Buchan in Aberdeenshire
- RRH Brizlee Wood in Northumberland
- RRH Neatishead in Norfolk
- RRH Portreath in Cornwall
- RRH Staxton Wold in North Yorkshire
Although not a Force Element, the Support Wing at RAF Boulmer is a vital cog in the machinery of the Command, without which the ASACS Force could not generate its capability. In total, the ASACS Force Command comprises some 1800 military personnel, civil servants and contracted staff.
Control and Reporting Centre
The Control and Reporting Centre (CRC) at RAF Boulmer is tasked with compiling a Recognised Air Picture within NATO Air Policing Area 1, and providing tactical control of the Quick Reaction Alert Force. The CRC also supports the training of students undergoing training at the School of Aerospace Battle Management and controls military aircraft on routine training missions. Furthermore, the CRC provides trained personnel for out of area operations, currently ranging from The Falkland Islands to the Middle East. The unit also provides the UK's tactical control facility for the combat training of air defence, ground attack and air-to-air refuelling aircraft and participates daily in Joint training with the Royal Navy, exchanging air picture information by both digital data link and voice nets with ships at sea.
During the summer of 2004, following the closure of CRC Neatishead in Norfolk, completion of the refurbishment of the underground bunker at RAF Boulmer marked the arrival of over 250 personnel to man the Unit. Following operational assessment of the new equipment, CRC Boulmer assumed 24/7 operations on 16 August 2004.
In summary, the CRC is manned 24/7 to support NATO and national Quick Reaction Alert requirements. Managing the UK's network-enabled capability for the Homeland Defence task, the CRC also supports the training of Air Surveillance and Control System personnel, UK and NATO partner aircrew for deployment on operations worldwide.
Resource Management Hub
The ASACS Force Resource Management Hub is based at RAF Boulmer. It currently employs 14 Civilian personnel, 12 located at RAF Boulmer and 2 at RAF Scampton. Its role is to provide specialist financial support & guidance to the ASACS Force Command whilst ensuring value for money and compliance with HQ Air Command's Corporate Governance policies.
Support Wing has approximately 100 service and civil servant personnel, who along with a large number of contractors support operations. The wing comprises three squadrons: Force Development Squadron which is responsible for all the key elements necessary to deliver Force Development Training, including the Training and Development Flight, Physical Education Section, Regiment Section and the Learning Centre. Personnel Management Squadron which includes Personnel Services Flight, the Service Community Support Officer, HIVE, General Duties Flight and the Medical and Dental Centres. Management Support Squadron which comprises Catering, Retail and Leisure, Estates and Facilities Management, Media and Communications and the Station i-Hub and Central Registry.
ASACS Engineering and Logistics Squadron
The elements of the ASACS Eng & Logs Squadron, which come under the control of the ASACS Force Commander (Station Commander RAF Boulmer), are:
- Engineering & Logistics Squadron Headquarters (Eng & Logs Sqn HQ)
- Control & Reporting Centre (CRC) Engineering Flight
- Command, Control, Communications, Computers and Information (C4i) Flight
- Radar Flight, which consists of all of the UK Remote Radar Heads
- Mechanical Transport (MT) Flight
ASACS Engineering & Logistics (Eng & Logs) Squadron was stood up on 12 April, previously being called Engineering and Supply (Eng & Sup) Squadron. The formation of the new ASACS Eng & Logs Squadron came into existence due to a major re-organisation of the Royal Air Forces' UK Static Radar Sites.
Eng and Sup Squadron began life on the Operations Site at RAF Boulmer and in the early 1960s and throughout the intervening years, has been shaped by a combination of technological change, strategic planning and administrative accountability into what it is today, a centre of outstanding engineering excellence, which has been continued with the formation of ASACS Eng & Logs Squadron.
From the early days of radar (Linesman and Mediator), through the Cold War years of the Type 84 and Type 85 radars, until the present day, the squadron has been entrusted with bearing the torch for Boulmer and, in ensuring the sustainability of the units many assets finds itself at the very forefront of leading edge technology, which provides collectively the engineering backbone of the modern United Kingdom Air Surveillance and Control Systems.
At the very heart of the UK air defence network; Engineering, Logistics, Mechanical Transport and technical administration staff provide continuous 24-hour support to ASACS throughout the year and stand ready, at a moment's notice, to deal swiftly and proactively with the many changes that are frequently thrown their way.
The station is affiliated with HMS Northumberland.
- List of Royal Air Force stations
- No. 202 Squadron RAF
- RAF Buchan
- RAF Neatishead
- RAF Scampton
- The majority of Royal Air Force personnel pronounce the station as Bulmer, however, the local version is pronounced Boomer.
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- Hugh Morris (6 October 2017). "What's the point of scrambling a fighter jet – and would one ever shoot down a passenger plane?". Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 6 October 2017.
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- "Resource Management Hub". RAF Boulmer. Royal Air Force. Retrieved 5 July 2016.
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- "Eng & Logs". RAF Boulmer. Royal Air Force. Retrieved 5 July 2016.
- "AIR CADETS ACTIVITY DAY AT RAF BOULMER - North East Connected". neconnected.co.uk. Retrieved 22 April 2018.
- Delve, Ken. The Military Airfields of Britain: Northern England: Co. Durham, Cumbria, Isle of Man, Lancashire, Merseyside, Manchester, Northumberland, Tyne & Wear, Yorkshire. Ramsbury, Wiltshire, UK: The Crowood Press, 2006. ISBN 1-86126-809-2
- Cannon, Michael (1994). Eavesdropping on the British Military. Dublin, Eire: Cara Press.
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