The Other Group Captain

Although no-one has yet had the brass to actually say it to him, as he’s been driving-in to Marham and walking around the Station, he’s seen the puzzled look on our faces: ‘Who is that other Group Captain that is here rather a lot lately? He’s not the Station Commander (and he is much better looking) and doesn’t wear Combat Soldier 95 (CS95) when we do, so what’s he doing here?’ Well, all is about to be revealed.

He is Group Captain Andy Read, the Tornado Project Team Leader. As he belongs to Defence Equipment & Support (DE&S), his post is officially at MoD Abbey Wood in Bristol but the larger part of his team relocated to RAF Marham on the 31st of May and he now splits his time roughly 50:50 between the two locations.

But why, then, did the Tornado Project Team come to Marham? Simply, to work more closely with BAE Systems to deliver engineering and logistic support to the Front Line more effectively and efficiently. One of the key roles of the Project Team is to convert the Front Line’s engineering and logistic needs into tasks and services which can be contracted with Industry, and the Project Team is here only because BAE Systems is at Marham. And why is BAE Systems here? Well, that’s because, a number of years ago, the RAF decided upon a strategy of ‘rolled forward’ engineering and logistic support for its fast jet aircraft whereby deep maintenance and large upgrades would be combined (hence, ‘combined maintenance and upgrade – CMU’) and moved to each aircraft’s principal main operating base in order to create a logistic ‘centre of gravity’ for each type: Marham for Tornado GR4, Leeming for F3, Cottesmore for Harrier, Coningsby for Typhoon and Valley for Hawk. Although the F3 and Harrier have since gone out of service, this strategy remains in place.

For many years now, Number 1 Group, DE&S and BAE Systems have had a Partnering Agreement in place for Tornado support which drives all three parties to work together as a team, recognising that although the first two parties belong to the MoD and the third is a contractor they are in reality highly interdependent and cannot operate in isolation or at ‘arms length’ from one another. Elements of Number 1 Group moved forward to Marham some years ago and are now in the Force Operations Centre. Accordingly, the Project Team has had an aspiration for some years to relocate itself to RAF Marham, and this has come to fruition only recently.

Not all of the Project Team came to Marham, though; it exists within a much larger team which is known as the Fast Air Support Team (FAST) and is based at MoD Abbey Wood, the headquarters of DE&S. FAST was originally devised to bring together the Tornado, Typhoon and Harrier project teams, and the centralised part of FAST and all the project team leaders are based at Abbey Wood. Andy also has a small part of his own team based with him at Abbey Wood which manages the Tornado GR4 Capability Upgrade and Sustainment Programme; this will eventually deliver into the GR4 Force an improved secure comms system and a tactical data-link system. Andy also has elements of his team based at BAE Systems Warton, Rolls Royce Filton, RAF Boscombe Down and one post at RAF Lossiemouth.

Many of Andy’s team are civil servants; they might look like contractors but they are MoD employees and they are being provided with some nifty name-badges to make this distinction more obvious. Andy also employs a number of RAF staff, nearly all of whom are RAF Engineer Officers, and these are the people seen wearing RAF Number 2 working dress (and will soon be wearing those nifty badges too) when everyone else at Marham has changed into CS95; this is because Andy’s team is not part of the GR4 Force and does not come under the command of Number 1 Group although, being a ‘lodger unit’, it must still abide by the Station’s standing orders.

The Project Team’s relationship with Depth Wing at RAF Marham is somewhat complex and deserves a separate article. Suffice it to say here that Depth could best be described as a joint venture between Number 1 Group and BAE Systems, and that the Project Team acts as an agent to help make this arrangement work. In particular, the Project Team is the contracting authority; it tasks BAE Systems and pays for its services.

So, the ‘other one’ is Group Captain Andy Read and you can expect to see him at Marham about half the time.