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Trust, transparency and new generations of talent – half a century of mission critical service excellence at RAF Fylingdales

Dramatic advances in satellite technology and the rapidly rising number of nations investing in satellite capabilities are demanding ever-increasing vigilance from peacekeeping nations around the world. Standing firm at the helm of international security is the Solid State Phased Array Radar (SSPAR), part of the UK/US Ballistic Missile Early Warning System located at RAF (Royal Air Force) Fylingdales in North Yorkshire, UK. Referred to as ‘the unblinking eye’, the station motto is ‘vigilamus’ or ‘we are watching’.

Since 1964, Serco (originally as RCA) has been responsible for the operation, maintenance and repair of the early warning radar and associated hardware and support systems. In this role today, our team at RAF Fylingdales serves both the UK Space Operations Centre of the RAF and the Combined Space Operations Center of the US Air Force.

The relationships between the Serco team and their military colleagues in the UK and US are strong, forged through a long and impressive history of service delivery excellence and customer satisfaction:

“For more than five decades we’ve worked side by side with our customer,” says Martin Hynes, Contract Manager. “We know them inside and out. Through all the changes and the challenges, we’ve been here, supporting them. Per the Ministry of Defence ‘Whole Force Approach’, we live and breathe every last detail of this essential operation. With our deep understanding of the task and our customer objectives, we provide mission critical continuity and work hard to stay one step ahead when it comes to meeting their needs.”

Customer advocacy for Serco at RAF Fylingdales is 96%. For Martin, the secret ingredient is trust:

“The honesty and transparency of our team here is held in the highest regard. They have complete confidence in our ability to deliver a high-quality service, trusting all of us to do the right thing and to execute brilliantly. That level of trust takes time to build and is an ongoing commitment, but it also takes the right people.”

Our colleagues at RAF Fylingdales are a highly skilled and specialised engineering and technical team, some of whom have been there since the beginning. Investing in future generations is a priority, but getting the right people can be challenging, given the remote location. The key to success is a strong eye for the right values and potential, coupled with a strategic focus on talent development.

“The Serco Values run deep through everything we do,” says Martin. “We’re all ambassadors for Serco here, which is no light privilege. We look for talented people with the right spirit and the right attitude and then, together, we discover how far they can go. Training is a big part of growing our talent from within, but careful management and empowerment, and treating each other with dignity and respect – that’s how we’re maintaining an exceptional team while enabling our demographics to evolve in the right direction.”

In the last year, two members of the team have proven their potential to go very far indeed, launching their careers on trajectories to rival those of the satellites they watch over.

Early in their careers, Charlotte Newton and Lacey Harrison both joined Serco at RAF Fylingdales as Spacetrack Analysts. Working in teams of four on 12-hour shifts, Spacetrack Analysts are responsible for ensuring the accuracy of the satellite catalogue 24/7, continuously tracking all known satellites and space debris. It is imperative that any new objects are detected and identified as quickly as possible.

In 2020, Charlotte was offered a secondment opportunity working as the first Commercial Integration Cell (CIC) Representative for the UK Space Operation Centre.

“The CIC is a major new undertaking,” explains Martin. “Its purpose is to forge stronger connections and drive synergies between the RAF and their industry partners in UKspace, the trade association of the British space industry, and ensure that the objectives of all parties are aligned. Charlotte’s role is to facilitate and grow commercial links with the military in space operations and surveillance. For one of our team to be chosen as the first to fulfil this important ambassadorial role is testament to Charlotte’s calibre and potential, as well as recognition of the trust between Serco and our customer.”

Meanwhile, Lacey received a Serco Global Pulse Award in 2020 for the invaluable support she has given to the UK and US command authorities – repeatedly catching unexpected orbital developments that might otherwise have been missed and, in some cases, had been dismissed by the customer.

“Since joining us,” says Martin, “Lacey has sought continuously to improve her knowledge and understanding of the Radar system beyond the immediate requirements of her role. As new technologies continue to create ever more complex challenges for national and international space security, innovative and analytical minds like Lacey’s – never willing to settle for the easy answer – are taking us to new heights and earning us even stronger respect and reputation among our stakeholders as the go-to station for accurate and verified data. Vigilamus…”