As many as 900 people are expected to be employed at the peak of work on the £160m project, which involves construction of flight simulators, a maintenance unit, new hangars and storage facilities.
RAF Lakenheath will be the first permanent international site for US Air Force (USAF) F-35s in Europe. The 48 new F-35A Lightning II aircraft are due to arrive at the base in late 2021, when they will join existing squadrons of F-15s already operating there.
Today’s official groundbreaking ceremony was attended by senior representatives of the contractors, the USAF’s 48th Fighter Wing and the Defence Infrastructure Organisation (DIO). DIO awarded the £160m contract to the KVF-35 Joint Venture in November last year.
“The infrastructure being delivered will benefit the local economy by providing a range of training and employment opportunities as well as demonstrating our long and proud history of supporting US Air Force capability in the UK,” said DIO F-35 programme manager Keith Maddison. Meetings with the local council resulted in commitments to the community including requirement for the Kier VolkerFitzpatrick JV, KVF-35, to use local contractors and provide apprenticeships. “From our point of view, it’s about making a commitment to the people as much as it is to the project itself,” he said.
Demolition work began earlier this year to make way for the new facilities. Maddison said that subcontractor Anglian Demolition & Asbestos has done very well, taking down 18 buildings including two substantial, heavily reinforced hardened aircraft shelters that were in the footprint of the F-35 ‘campus’. About a dozen individual projects will be built in the campus area, including the flight simulators and two hangars.
“We have stockpiled some 6,000m3 of hardcore that we are going to reuse under roadways, pathways and some hardstanding areas,” said Kier Group managing director of aviation and defence James Hindes. “The project team is in good shape – we are on schedule for completion in 2021.”
Getting personnel and materials onto site is a particular challenge, he said, as the base is very secure. “It’s taken meticulous planning to make sure that we’ve got all that scheduled in time for construction,” he said. The number of operatives on site at peak construction will range between about 700 and 900, he said.
KVF-35 JV has committed to maximising the opportunities for local people and businesses. New jobs are being created and 40% of the construction spend will be with local suppliers. Hindes said that there was a good response to the first ‘meet the buyer’ event in April, with 130 attending from 16 different companies. “That is something that we are going to continue doing through the course of the project,” he said.
The team plans to take on 50 apprentices - six have already started – and will also be holding careers fairs in local schools.
Maddison hopes that these apprentices will be able to continue to work on other projects on the base once the F-35 project is complete. He said that the current work is part of a wider investment of about £1.5bn, including a hospital, school and other facilities at RAF Lakenheath. “We start the new hospital’s phase 1 in 2022, phase 2 in ’24 and we will finish in ’25,” he said. “We’re demolishing the existing hospital at the same time as we’re building the new one, so we’ve got to do it in sequence.” There will also be a new high school and new accommodation.