British Underwater Test and Evaluation Centre
The British Underwater Test and Evaluation Centre (BUTEC) has its headquarters and offices at Kyle of Localsh, which administers the ranges and installations at Sand to the north of Applecross, and on the northern part of the island of Rona. These facilities use the waters of the Inner Sound between the Isle of Skye and the Scottish mainland to carry out surface and underwater water range tests of weapons, equipment and vessels.
The centre and its associated ranges were established in the 1970s, to test and evaluate equipment for the Royal Navy and the Ministry of Defence (MoD), and was operated by the Defence Evaluation and Research Agency (DERA) until parts of this organisation were privatised in 2001, when defence contractor QinetiQ took over the running of the centre.
The centre is co-located with the facilities of the Rona Noise Range.
The main jetty and storage facility for the testing ranges around the Inner Sound are sited at the Kyle of Lochalsh centre. An application to build an explosives storage facility at the site was granted planning permission in October 2002.
The control centre in the range terminal building to the north manages the movement of both vessels on trial and support craft by radio.
The testing range is described a protected surface and underwater three dimensional tracking range measuring approximately 10 kilometres long, 4 kilometres wide, and having a depth which varies between 175 metres and 200 metres. Test subjects can be tracked in real time using differential GPS for surface and airborne tests, for up to 30 kilometres. The centre can declare an air danger area which covers the entire test range and the access route to shore facility if required, and extend from ground level to 1,500 feet. Weapons recovery can be carried out on the surface or the seabed, and the centre is equipped with both helicopter and ROV (remotely operated vehicle) services, with a helipad at the shore base and trial vessels provided by Serco Marine.
Testing can also be carried out off site, using a mobile three dimensional tracking range. Tested weapons do not carry live warheads.
The range is also equipped to carry out testing of sonobuoys - which are relatively small expendable sonar systems that can be dropped or ejected from aircraft or ships conducting anti-submarine warfare or underwater acoustic research. Minehunters from the UK and other countries also use the facility for trials and training.
Depending on the source referred to, the range is considered to be the bane of local fishermen, restricted from fishing in the area when tests are underway, and because their nets may snag underwater equipment, or they are reported to support the location of the facility, as the restricted access means the stocks are maintained and breeding is promoted, leading to more stock in in the surrounding water.
Testing of Low Frequency Active (LFA) sonar systems has resulted in controversy, with the systems being been blamed for the mass deaths of whales and dolphins. Tests on the British version of the system, known as sonar 2087, have taken place at BUTEC.
Such systems are used by the Royal Navy and US Navy to locate submerged submarines by bouncing high intensity sound waves from their hulls. Environmentalists claim evidence collected since the mid 1990s shows that use of this equipment results in mass stranding of whales, and that the beaching of and entire whale pod during an American sonar exercise in the Bahamas provided conclusive evidence of the effect.
The Royal Navy has stated that it has developed "a range of mitigation measures to minimise the impact of sonar fitted to surface warships", which includes the avoidance of known breeding areas, and discontinuing operation of the 2087 sonar in the presence of whales, dolphins, and other cetaceans.
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