It’s hard to believe that just over a year ago DIO awarded to Kier VolkerFitzpatrick joint venture KVF35 the contract to build a flight simulator facility, maintenance unit, new hangars, storage facilities and supporting infrastructure at RAF Lakenheath in Suffolk. The base will be the first permanent international site for US Air Force F-35As in Europe and construction began in July this year to prepare the airbase for the arrival of two new squadrons of US F-35s commencing in November 2021.
After months of meticulous planning, 48th Fighter Wing and DIO held a ground-breaking ceremony at the airbase in July 15 with USAF’s 48th Fighter Wing, the Air Force Civilian Engineer Centre and KVF35 to officially mark the start of construction, and we haven’t stopped since!
We’re incredibly proud of what we’ve achieved so far. The construction work is gathering pace and we have completed the installation of a new UK power networks high voltage power supply to the base ahead of schedule, which is absolutely vital to the programme. A new temporary concrete production plant has also been installed on the site resulting in a 39% reduction in lorry traffic to and from RAF Lakenheath as the concrete can be produced on site, instead of being brought in by mixer lorry.
We also worked with the Forestry Commission during the removal of 700 trees as part of the initial site clearance. However, 1400 new trees will be re-planted within the MOD estate.
The early stages of construction have presented some fascinating and occasionally challenging discoveries, allowing the team to draw a link in time with previous inhabitants of the RAF Lakenheath site. Unexploded ordnance from the Cold War and World War Two period, uncovered during the groundworks phase, have thankfully proved our rigorous safety procedures to be well in order. Somewhat less threatening to life but absolutely fascinating in another way was the archaeological discovery of an exceptionally well-preserved sequence of activity that starts in the Late Neolithic/Early Bronze Age (c.4500 years ago).
Flint tools and arrowheads have been uncovered by professional archaeologists working alongside the construction team to ensure we are able to preserve this important part of local history for generations to come.
In addition to the construction, DIO is working closely with the Forest Heath District Council and our partners to ensure we maximise opportunities to create employment and training that last beyond the end of construction. In the first six months of the project 6 apprentices were taken on by KVF35 and 22 new jobs were created. We now have 8 apprentices and there is a target to employ 16 on site before the end of the programme.
We're also supporting KVF35 in their work with local schools and colleges to highlight career opportunities for women and young people in the construction industry and will continue to work collaboratively with our partners Jacobs, Mott MacDonald and WYG to provide compelling and stimulating roles across the programme. Working with DIO opens up a range of unique opportunities to support the Armed Forces in a variety of ways and our US Visiting Forces Infrastructure Programme (UIP) is no exception.
KVF35 are working with Buildforce to provide mentoring and work placements for people leaving the armed services in the near future or who have recently left. The work placements include shadowing different people on the programme to give a full flavour of different roles within the sector. We also have 7 mentors within the programme who are supporting people through Buildforce and the Veterans Employment Transition Support to make the transition into civilian life and work a bit smoother.
We also have a team working across the business to create more apprenticeship opportunities for existing staff and new entrants, particularly in areas where we require new talent to address skills gaps. There’s a common myth that apprenticeships are aimed at school leavers, but that’s not true, they are available to everyone and are a great way to learn on the job.
Creating new opportunities for employment is a crucial part of the lasting legacy that the UIP will leave across the UK.
When so much of what we do involves construction and the building of new infrastructure, it’s easy to focus on the project and programme and sometimes lose sight of the bigger picture and what we’re really there to do.
At a recent UIP conference, we were honoured to have Colonel Mark Ciero from USAFE UK talk to us about the importance of the work we are doing in support of the US mission in Europe. We are extremely proud to be delivering US military capability and in turn building the capability of the UK/US alliance as a whole. This is a message we are actively promoting that message across our team and to each of our UIP partners.
We’re very pleased with what we’ve achieved so far and we’re excited about what’s yet to come at RAF Lakenheath and across the wider UIP as we move forward to other bases across the UK within the UIP.