More than £60million is to be invested in the Hebrides Range - including at St Kilda pictured above – over the coming years, with the future of the facility guaranteed until 2028.
However, the Uist community newspaper Am Pàipear has learned that West Camp in Balivanich is to be scaled back.
Earlier QinetiQ announced a £1billion contract amendment to the Long Term Partnering Agreement (LTPA) from the Ministry of Defence (MoD).
QinetiQ operates the Hebrides Range facility – which includes sites on South Uist, Benbecula, North Uist and St Kilda – for the MoD.
Through the amendment – and to ensure the UK has the capabilities required for experimentation, demonstration and rehearsal of military capability – QintetiQ will invest approximately £95m in modern tracking equipment, instrumentation and range infrastructure at Hebrides Range and also at Aberporth Range in Wales.
These changes will cut overall operating costs at the ranges, ensuring they remain competitive and can support defence exports and attract international customers, building on the success of multi-national exercises held over the last two years.
Speaking with Am Pàipear, Graeme Morrison, Operations Director (Maritime, Land and Weapons) for QinetiQ, said: “We are going to spend a minimum of £60million on Hebrides Range over the coming years, as part of our wider strategy for the future. We are preparing a long-term plan for the business to continue to grow and develop.
“This investment in Hebrides Range secures the facility for the next ten years and sets a strong, solid foundation going forward.”
Mr Morrison confirmed that the success of recent large-scale exercises partly based at Hebrides Range was one driver behind the investment announced this morning.
Last year, units from multiple nations completed pioneering missile defence trials at Hebrides Range. During the exercise, ballistic missiles were launched from South Uist, representing the first time a rocket has been launched into space from UK sovereign territory. Earlier this autumn, the Royal Navy used Hebrides Range during its inaugural Unmanned Warrior exercise which featured drones.
Mr Morrison continued: “We need to evolve and adapt to suit the requirements of our customers. Following on from the success of recent exercises like Unmanned Warrior a few weeks ago, there is huge enthusiasm among our international partners. Our customers are delighted and many want to come back, with talks on follow-up exercises underway. However, in addition to the big trials, the general throughput of work will also continue.”
The new money will be spent predominantly on a variety of new technology and equipment, including new accommodation and infrastructure on St Kilda. In addition, a new helicopter landing area will be built at Range Head on South Uist and some accommodation refurbished at West Camp and Congreve House on Benbecula.
Graeme Morrison said: “The Armed Forces are changing and we are therefore looking at a different styles and challenges compared to the past. For example, the Army’s requirement for the previous larger numbers of troops deploying to the Hebrides to test weapons systems has reduced and so there is less need for large volumes of troop accommodation.
"As a result, the size of West Camp will be scaled back and part of it handed back to the MoD next year.”
QinetiQ currently employs six people in roles connected with West Camp. Further staff at the camp are employed by catering and services company Elior.
Mr Morrison said QinetiQ would be discussing the smaller accommodation footprint with Elior. In the future, QinetiQ may at times instead rely on hotels and local accommodation to supplement the smaller West Camp facilities, perhaps resulting in a net benefit to the local economy
Earlier local councillor Donnie Steele welcomed the announcement. Commenting to Am Pàipear, Councillor Steele said: "This is really positive news for Hebrides Range. It proves the decision to fight for the facility in 2009 was right.
"QinetiQ and MOD's commitment to the range until at least 2028 and their decision to invest tens of millions in infrastructure and future technologies is a huge positive for the island and its economy. We will work closer with our range in Aberporth, West Wales, to increase resilience and productivity, thus securing the ranges future after the 2028 contract extension.
"Hebrides Range on South Uist is now recognised as one of the best facilities in the world."