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UK RAF Radar Coverage to be Enhanced

The UK is expected to install a Lockheed Martin AN/TPS-77 ground-based air surveillance radar in northern Scotland in the coming months.

UK defence sources have told MONS that a Lockheed Martin AN/TPS-77 L-band (1.215-1.4GHz) ground-based air surveillance radar will be installed at the Royal Air Force’s (RAF) Saxa Vord airbase on the island of Unst, the most northerly of the Shetland Islands, off the northeast coast of Scotland. The radar is expected to be declared operations next year. 

The sources continued that the AN/TPS-77 will be relocated from the RAF’s Staxton Wold airbase on the east coast of England. No plans have yet been revealed as to whether this latter facility will receive a new radar to replace the relocated AN/TPS-77. The base at Saxa Vord, known as a Remote Radar Head (RRH), has not possessed any ground-based air surveillance radar for a decade. This follows the closure of the RRH, which had housed a Plessey AR-320 L-band ground-based air surveillance radar, in April 2006.

Although not confirmed by the UK Ministry of Defence, it is reasonable to assume that the activation of the AN/TPS-77 at the Saxa Vord RRH is to provide enhanced air surveillance over the north-eastern approaches to the UK, given the radar’s reported 250 nautical mile/nm (470 kilometres) range. Currently, the RAF maintains several RRHs at Benbecula on the Outer Hebrides Islands off the northwest coast of Scotland, Buchan on the northwest coast of Scotland, Brizlee Wood on the coast of northeast England, Staxton Wold on the east coast of England; Neatishead, also on the east coast and Portreath on the southwest tip of England. 

The RRHs at Benbecula and Buchan are equipped with a Lockheed Martin Type-92 L-band radar with a range of circa 250nm, according to open sources. The facilities at Staxton Wold, Brizlee Wood and Neatishead are all equipped with the AN/TPS-77, sources continue. Finally, the RRH at Portreath is equipped with BAE Systems’ AR-327 Commander S-band (2.3-2.5/2.7-3.7GHz) ground-based air surveillance radar, which also has a circa 250nm range. All of these radars provide comprehensive coverage of almost the entirety of the British Isles. By relocating the AN/TPS-77 from Staxton Wold to Saxa Vord, the UK will significantly enhance its coverage of the northeast approaches to the country without significantly degrading UK ground-based air surveillance coverage elsewhere. 

Although not stated by the UK MOD, it is almost certain that the radar’s relocation is a response to flights conducted close to UK airspace by the Russian Air Force in recent years, and to increase early warning times of potential incursions into UK airspace. On 20th September two RAF Eurofighter Typhoon F/GR4 fighters were scrambled in response to two Russian Air Force aircraft approaching Scotland, both Russian aircraft turned away from UK airspace before being intercepted.

Thomas Withington, Toulouse.

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