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|Near Whitby, North Yorkshire in England|
(Latin for We are Watching)
|Type||Ballistic Missile Early Warning station|
|Height||820 feet (250 m)|
|Owner||Ministry of Defence|
|Operator||Royal Air Force|
|Controlled by||No. 1 Group (Air Combat)|
|Radar type||Raytheon AN/FPS-126 Solid State Phased Array Radar System (SSPARS)|
|Wg Cdr Alun Walton|
RAF Fylingdales is a Royal Air Force station on Snod Hill in the North York Moors, England. Its motto is "Vigilamus" (translates to "We are watching"). It is a radar base and is also part of the Ballistic Missile Early Warning System (BMEWS). As part of intelligence-sharing arrangements between the United States and United Kingdom (see, for example, the UKUSA Agreement), data collected at RAF Fylingdales are shared between the two countries. Its primary purpose is to give the British and US governments warning of an impending ballistic missile attack (part of the so-called four minute warning during the Cold War). A secondary role is the detection and tracking of orbiting objects; Fylingdales is part of the United States Space Surveillance Network. As well as its early-warning and space-tracking roles, Fylingdales has a third function - the Satellite Warning Service for the UK. It keeps track of spy satellites used by other countries, so that secret activities in the UK can be carried out when they are not overhead. The armed services, defence manufacturers and research organisations, including universities, take advantage of this facility.
The station was sited on a former wartime mortar range on Snod Hill, which had to be comprehensively cleared by RAF Bomb Disposal before building could begin. The station was built by the Radio Corporation of America (RCA) in 1962, and was maintained by RCA (Great Britain), now Serco Group plc. RAF Fylingdales consisted of three 130-foot (40 m) diameter 'golfballs' or geodesic domes (radomes) containing mechanically steered radar. Operation of the Fylingdales Site transferred to RAF Fighter Command on 15 January 1964 although the site became operational on 17 September 1963. It became a local tourist attraction as a result. Coach tours to the nearby coastal town of Whitby drove past the site, at which point drivers would typically switch the radio on and allow passengers to listen to the interference caused by the radars.
Between 1989 and 1992, Raytheon, the US defence contractor, completed a contract that saw the domes replaced by the current tetrahedron ('pyramid') structure, housing the AESA phased array radar. The site is 820 feet (250 m) above sea level and the structure is nine floors high rising from its ground level to 120 feet (37 m) high.
National Missile Defense
In the late 1990s, the United States decided to pursue a National Missile Defense plan fully, and RAF Fylingdales attracted further publicity. To improve tracking capabilities (for launches from Africa and the Middle East) the United States wanted the use of Fylingdales as part of its NMD network. After receiving a formal request from the US, the British Government agreed to its use as an NMD tracking facility, in 2003. The decision was criticised, because the proposed NMD system was solely for US benefit.
A £449 million upgrade for RAF Fylingdales to become an NMD tracking facility is now underway by Boeing, with Raytheon as the major subcontractor. It will replace many internal systems - computers, displays, etc - to improve resolution and tracking accuracy. No external changes are being made in direct relation to these upgrades and no power increases will occur.
According to the BBC, The Independent reported that the British Government secretly agreed to a US request to station NMD missile interceptors at Fylingdales Moor in late 2004. This has subsequently been denied by the Ministry of Defence.
In June 2003, concern arose locally that RAF Fylingdales was emitting harmful emissions, after a possible cancer cluster was discovered around a similar radar facility on Cape Cod in the United States. The issue was investigated by the local NHS organisation, the Scarborough, Whitby and Ryedale Primary Care Trust, and a report was released in December. It concluded that there was no link between RAF Fylingdales and local cancer rates, nor any abnormal risk, as cancer rates in the immediate area proved to be normal. A 2003 MoD report on the impact of the NMD upgrade at RAF Fylingdales reiterated that the base was within health guidelines and would remain so.
While the radar station remains a British asset operated and commanded by the Royal Air Force, it also forms one of three stations in the United States BMEWS network (the United States also funds the cost of the radar units). The other two stations in the network are Thule Air Base, Greenland and Clear Air Force Station, Alaska. The data obtained by Fylingdales is shared fully and freely with the United States, where it feeds into the US-Canadian North American Aerospace Defense Command at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs. To this end a United States Air Force liaison officer is stationed at the base.
The primary radars of RAF Fylingdales are active electronically scanned array (AESA) phased array radars, mounted on each face of a truncated tetrahedron, typically referred to as the "pyramid" or the SSPAR (Solid State Phased Array). This makes Fylingdales unique amongst its peers in that it covers a full 360 degrees. Each of the three arrays is 84-foot (26 m) across and contains around 2560 transmit/receive modules; mean power output is about 2.5 MW, with a tracking range of 3,000 nautical miles (5,600 km; 3,500 mi).
The functions of RAF Fylingdales have been subject to criticism from opposition groups, such as the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND), leading to protests being held on occasion. These stem from concerns regarding the base's association with nuclear warfare and the militarisation of space. They argue against the UK assisting the US National Missile Defense (NMD) programme with RAF Fylingdales' ability to detect attacks, saying it is destabilising US and European relations with Russia, makes the UK the front line in any future conflict and it could be information from Fylingdales that initiates a nuclear response from the US and/or the UK to a perceived threat – real or false; intended or accidental. The radar beam has created serious concern of radiation risks due to leakage from the sides of the beams -“side lobes”. Although the radiation levels are within UK limits (NRPB), it would be harder for the base to keep within the tighter EU limits (INIRPB), which the UK may soon adopt.
The Ministry of Defence (MoD) defends the use and role of the facility, regarding RAF Fylingdales as part of the UK's contribution to counter a military threat. The MoD states that, although ballistic missile attack is a minor threat currently, this could change in the long-term future, if as-yet unknown enemies develop missiles as a means to overcome large distances to strike at the UK.
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- "North York Moors early warning station marks anniversary". York Press. 17 September 2013. Retrieved 30 November 2017.
- "plaque in the Tactical Operations Room". Retrieved 6 March 2014.
"This plaque commemorates the commissioning of Royal Air Force Fylingdales as Site III of the Balistic Missile Early Warning System on 17 September 1963 . This site is a joint enterprise of the United States of America and Great Britain for the protection of both the North American Continent and the United Kingdom.)
- "Early Warning System has Important Role in NORAD". The Othello Outlook. Othello, Washington. 26 November 1964. p. 6.
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- Cornick, Scott Allen Nollen ; foreword by Ian Anderson ; afterword by David Pegg ; with the participation of Glenn; Perry, Doane (2002). Jethro Tull : a history of the band, 1968-2001. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland. p. 159. ISBN 0-7864-1101-5.
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- Missile Defence: A Public Discussion Paper, Ministry of Defence, 9 December 2002
- Upgrade to RAF Fylingdales Early Warning Radar: Environment and Land Use Report Ministry of Defence, 16 June 2003
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