SHETLAND will soon return to the strategic role it performed during the height of the Cold War in the 1960s and 1970s as an early warning station on NATO’s northern flank.
During a short visit to Saxa Vord in Unst on Friday, air chief Marshall Sir Stephen Hillier said the £10 million remote radar head facility under construction there would soon become operational.
The chief of the air staff, said: “The radar system at Saxa Vord is an important part of ensuring that the RAF can fully protect both the UK’s airspace and that of our NATO allies, in the face of increasing pressure from Russia.”
The Saxa Vord radar head will be operated remotely by RAF personnel, and contractors will only attend the site for maintenance.
The Ministry of Defence (MoD) said the station would provide key information on aircraft movements to the north of the UK and feed the nationwide Quick Reaction Alert (QRA) operation which is responsible for policing international and UK airspace from RAF Lossiemouth in Moray and RAF Coningsby in Lincolnshire.
During the last five years, the RAF has carried out 69 QRA launches, the MoD added.
Defence secretary Gavin Williamson said: “We will always protect our skies from Russian aggression.
“This radar is a vital part of the UK’s defences as we react to intensifying global threats and reinforce our ability to tackle them. Russia’s actions are not limited to Europe’s eastern borders – the threat to British livelihoods is severe and real.”
But the move was ridiculed by Moscow. The Sputnik news agency said the “Russian threat” rhetoric was the UK military’s response to a shrinking defence budget.