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South Uist Missile Range

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South Uist radar, 2009
South Uist radar
© Barbara Carr

South Uist missile range lies on the northwest part of the island of South Uist, together with its local radar tracking station, immediately to the south of the island of Benbecula, where the airfield at Balivanich, RAF Benbecula, serves as the overall range headquarters and provides additional support facilities; the final part of the range is the remote radar tracking station installed on St Kilda, about 40 niles to the west. The range is operated for a number of clients, including the MoD and BAe Systems, by defence contractor QinetiQ, which took over from DERA (Defence Evaluation and Research Agency) after much of that agency was privatised in 2001. The Hebridean range is described as the largest air and sea range in the UK.

The Hebrides Range

Following a successful campaaign - see below for more details - to retain the range after its closure was announced during 2009, references to the testing range made by the media reflected its name as The Hebrides Range.

Description

The range utilises a number of sites across the islands, with the control centre located within RAF Benbecula at Benbecula Airport, next to the village of Balivanich, where many of the range personnel are accommodated.

The range head lies near West Geirinish, to the west of Loch Bee and Rueval on South Uist, where the ground launch areas are sited and provide missile launching, preparation and maintenance facilities.

The summit of Rueval (Ruabhal), 87 metres (285 ft), also known as the Hill of Miracles, hosts the radomes, masts, and buildings of the local radar tracking station. A network of concrete roads lead towards the three launch areas, numbered 1, 2 and 3 from north to south, and the signs for area 3 lead to a loop road which links the three launch areas, which are partly built on top of the dunes next to the shore.

Our Lady of the Isles,
Our Lady of the Isles
© Barbara Carr

Rueval has come to be referred to as the place where religion meets radar, as the radar station lies near a 9 metre (30 ft) high granite statue, by sculptor Hew Lorimer, of the Madonna and Child called Our Lady of the Isles, erected there in 1957, and standing at an elevation of 170 feet on the western side of the hill.

Hazards

The launch area is can be accessed with few restrictions when the missile range is not in operation, however, when the range is in use, access to most of the northwestern side of South Uist is restricted, and notices are posted by QinetiQ in a number of surrounding settlements giving details of the operating times. When the range is in operation, red flags are raised, and red lights are shown on the access roads.

Visitors must leave the area immediately if red flags are raised or red lights shown, and are strongly advised not to touch anything metallic they may find, it may explode if tampered with.

History

Proposals to build a rocket range on South Uist were met with hostility from some parts of the community hostility, not least because a number of crofters were to be evicted, but many other islanders were in favour of the the installation. Those protesting against the range were led by Father John Morrison, an influential local priest. Representations from those against the proposals were recorded in Hansard in March 1957:

HANSARD 1803–2005 → 1950s → 1957 → March 1957 → 13 March 1957 → Written Answers (Commons) → SCOTLAND
Rocket Range, South Uist (Representations)
HC Deb 13 March 1957 vol 566 c191W 191W

103. Mr. Emrys Hughes:
asked the Secretary of State for Scotland what protests he has received about the proposal to acquire land compulsorily for the establishment of a rocket range in South Uist; and what was the nature of his reply.

Mr. Maclay:
As reported in the Press, I have had recent communications from clergymen in South Uist including a note of the resolution passed at last week's meeting in Benbecula. I am sending the hon. Member a copy of my reply to these letters. Apart from letters from a few individuals in other parts of Great Britain, notice of a resolution by an area council of the Scottish National Party and a telegram from the Scottish Covenant Association, I have received no other representations since detailed plans for the range were circulated to the local authorities and other bodies last summer.

- Hansard, March 13, 1957.[1]

A few days later, the same speaker was snubbed when he inferred that the presence of the range made huge areas of Scotland unsafe, and that evacuation procedures were needed:

HANSARD 1803–2005 → 1950s → 1957 → March 1957 → 19 March 1957 → Commons Sitting → SCOTLAND
Civil Defence
HC Deb 19 March 1957 vol 567 cc203-4 203

Mr. Emrys Hughes:
asked the Secretary of State for Scotland what new proposals he has for improving civil defence arrangements in Scotland.

Mr. Maclay:
Within the limits imposed by economic considerations, practical measures are being continued to increase the efficiency of civil defence arrangements.

Mr. Hughes:
Would the right hon. Gentleman mind translating that into English? Does he not think that the establishment of a rocket range on the west coast of Scotland will make huge areas of Scotland less safe than they would otherwise have been, and will he revise his evacuation proposals in the light of that?

Mr. Maclay:
I think the hon. Gentleman is going a little wide of his original Question by bringing in another subject.

- Hansard, March 19, 1957.[2]

The same speaker re-iterated his fears regarding safety, claiming that islanders were considering emigration to Gaelic speaking parts of Canada to escape the new range, that nuclear warheads that would land there, increasing the likelihood that such warheads could land on cities such as Glasgow, Edinburgh and Aberdeen:

HANSARD 1803–2005 → 1950s → 1957 → April 1957 → 3 April 1957 → Commons Sitting → ROYAL AIR FORCE
Guided Missiles Site, South Uist
HC Deb 03 April 1957 vol 568 cc369-71 369

Mr. Hector Hughes:
asked the Secretary of State for Air how many, and which, sites he considered for guided missiles before he decided upon the Island of South Uist for that purpose; what were the characteristics of those other sites which were rejected for the purpose; and what determining factor caused him to select the Island of South Uist for that purpose.

Mr. Ward:
I would refer the hon. and learned Member to the statement made by my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State in the debate on the Vote on Account on 7th March.

Mr. Hughes:
Has the Minister no progress to report? Does he not realise that, as a result of his selection of this site, the islanders are driven, in order to escape his clutches, to consider mass exodus to a Gaelic-speaking part of Canada, and does he not think that this is a disgraceful way in which to treat British subjects with whom he has no quarrel?

Mr. Ward:
This project is an extremely important part of the arrangements which we are making for the defence of these islands, and I am quite sure that the people of South Uist are just as interested in that as anyone else. My hon. Friend made it clear in the debate the other day that, after an extensive search in all possible areas, we decided that this was the only place to which to go. I would remind the hon. and learned Gentleman that this scheme will bring many advantages to the islands as well as the disadvantages of which I am well aware.

Mr. Emrys Hughes:
Will not the advantages which are likely to be brought to the islands mean that this part of Western Scotland is far more likely to be bombed, in the same way as we bombed the German rocket ranges during the last war? Does not the right hon. Gentleman realise that some of the advantages may be that if South Uist is bombed by rockets with nuclear warheads some of those bombs may drop on Glasgow, Aberdeen and Edinburgh? Does the right hon. Gentleman think that these are advantages for the Scottish population?

Mr. Hector Hughes:
London may escape.

Mr. Ward:
This is a range on which guided missiles are going to be tested for training purposes, and it is of such importance that I should have thought 371 that the people of the Western islands would have been proud to play their part in preparing for the country's defence.

Mr. Emrys Hughes:
Read the Scotsman.

- Hansard, April 3, 1957.[3]

By the end of 1957, even though the government was only considering cost saving cuts, the press was already said to have reported that the rocket range project was to be abandoned:

HANSARD 1803–2005 → 1950s → 1957 → November 1957 → 13 November 1957 → Commons Sitting → MINISTRY OF DEFENCE
South Uist Rocket Range
HC Deb 13 November 1957 vol 577 cc947-8 947

50. Mr. Malcolm MacMillan:
asked the Minister of Defence how far it is intended to abandon the guided missiles project in the Western Isles; what changes in expenditure and scale are contemplated; and what arrangements have been made for continuity of employment for workers on the scheme.

54. Mr. Emrys Hughes:
asked the Minister of Defence what consideration he has recently given to reducing expenditure on the South Uist rocket range.

Mr. Sandys:
I hope to be able to make a full statement shortly.

Mr. MacMillan:
Can the Minister give some sort of idea of what the word "shortly" means, in view of the fact that a Question has already been deferred by arrangement with his Ministry in order to give it an opportunity to make a full reply today? There is a good deal of local uncertainty and disturbance about the matter.

Mr. Sandys:
I recognise the need to clarify the position as quickly as possible.

Mr. Emrys Hughes:
Will the Minister's consideration take into account the fact that the lowest estimate for this scheme was £15 million, and that one was £20 million? Is he aware that the Government are advising us to stop inflation, and does not he think that his Ministry, by countenancing this enormous sum of money, is helping to increase inflation? Can he give some assurance that this colossal expenditure of public money will be abandoned, because it is a useless expenditure in view of the recent developments in rocket warfare?

Mr. Sandys:
The reason why I am not making a statement today is that I am doing just what the hon. Member wants, namely, seeing how far we can reduce to the absolute minimum the demands that we shall have to make upon land and the expenditure that we shall have to incur out of the taxpayers' money.

Mr. Woodburn:
Is the Minister aware that fairly definite statements have appeared in the Press that this rocket range is to be abandoned, and can he say whether this information is correct or whether it is intelligent anticipation?

Mr. Sandys:
I should say that it is anticipation, not necessarily correct.

- Hansard, November 13, 1957.[4]

HANSARD 1803–2005 → 1950s → 1957 → November 1957 → 20 November 1957 → Commons Sitting → MINISTRY OF DEFENCE
Guided Weapons Range, The Hebrides
HC Deb 20 November 1957 vol 578 cc361-4 361

Mr. Malcolm MacMillan:
asked the Minister of Defence if he is now able to make a statement about the proposed abandonment of, or reduction of expenditure upon, the guided missiles project in the Western Isles.

12. Mr. Emrys Hughes:
asked the Minister of Defence if he will state the date on which Her Majesty's Government decided to establish a rocket range in South Uist; what was the original estimate of the likely expenditure; how much money has already been spent; and what economies he proposes.

Mr. Sandys:
The Government's decision to set up a guided weapons range in the Hebrides was announced on 27th July, 1955. It would be contrary to practice to publish precise estimates of the cost of such projects, but it was of the order of £20 million. The preparatory works which have been carried out, or are in hand, amount to something under £500,000.

We are at present considering the possibility of restricting the scope of the scheme and I will make a further statement as soon as possible.

Mr. MacMillan:
While appreciating some of the reasons why events, including Sputniks, have made this project abortive and out of date, at the same time will the Minister realise that it has caused the utmost disturbance to local people, that it has put some out of their homes and land, and some out of jobs? Will he now approach his colleagues in the Government Departments and ask them to be less niggardly in promoting major and very necessary schemes of economic development—projects of a permanently useful character and employing local people? Will he at least give them some assurance on that score?

Mr. Sandys:
First, what I am now considering has nothing to do with Sputniks. Let me be quite clear about that I, also, recognise the unfortunate effects of leaving people in a state of uncertainty, and for that reason I am doing everything I can to speed up a decision. I do not think it would be any good my making a partial statement on a subject of this kind, since it might create more uncertainty and more confusion. As regards the general question of bringing industry to the Highlands, though I must say that the first reaction to the approach of some new development in the Hebrides was not universally welcomed, this question is one which is always very much in the mind of the Government. I was glad that when I was Minister of Supply I had the opportunity to bring the atomic scheme to Dounreay, in the very northernmost part of the Highlands.

Mr. MacMillan:
The right hon. Gentleman should correct his geography. Dounreay is not anywhere near the Western Islands. It is in the far northeast of Scotland. The second part of my question asked directly whether some kind of restoration of the social and economic life of the Uists could be arranged in view of the disturbance chaos and confusion which has been caused. People have been rendered homeless and landless and unemployed. Now, apparently, the project is being virtually abandoned and the local people brushed aside, with no further help from his Ministry. Will the Minister do something definite, at least to restore the damage that has already been done?

Mr. Sandys:
In case the hon. Gentleman, unlike myself, has not been to Dounreay, I can tell him that it is near Caithness. On the general question, I think I have spoken with sympathy about any disturbance of mind that may have been caused by the anticipation of changes of plan. I do not think we should exaggerate the disturbance in the livelihood of those people which has taken place.

Mr. Emrys Hughes:
Is the Minister aware that, if this gigantic white elephant was to cost £20 million, we all hope that his efforts to restrict this expenditure will be successful? Can he tell us whether it is true, as The Times correspondent said yesterday, that all work on the range is now at a standstill?

Mr. Sandys:
I think that the hon. Gentleman should await the full statement which I hope to make.

Mr. Rankin:
Is it at a standstill?

Mr. de Freitas:
Surely the Minister can answer that question? Is the work at a standstill or is it not? What kind of defence planning is this? A few months ago these men were bundled off because the Ministry could not even wait for an inquiry. What has happened now? What is the big change? Does not the Minister know?

Mr. Sandys:
The hon. Member who represents the Western Isles (Mr. Malcolm MacMillan) spoke with a great deal less heat than the hon. Member for Lincoln (Mr. de Freitas), because I think he understands the situation.

Mr. de Freitas:
But the right hon. Gentleman is the Minister of Defence.

Mr. Sandys:
I will make a full statement, but I do not think it is any good giving out litle bits of information here and there. Certain work has been carried out. If the hon. Gentleman will study my Answer, he will see that certain work is going on at the moment. It is not correct to say that everything is at a standstill.

- Hansard, November 20, 1957.[5]

HANSARD 1803–2005 → 1950s → 1957 → December 1957 → 4 December 1957 → Commons Sitting
ROCKET RANGE, THE HEBRIDES
HC Deb 04 December 1957 vol 579 cc385-90 385

The following Question stood upon the Order Paper:

101. Mr. MALCOLM MACMILLAN:
To ask the Minister of Defence if he will now make a full statement about the proposed changes in the Western Isles guided-missiles scheme.

The Minister of Defence (Mr. Duncan Sandys):
I will, with permission, Mr. Speaker, answer Question No. 101.

In the light of the changes in defence policy announced in the White Paper last April, and as part of the general drive for economy in public expenditure, the Government have re-examined the plan to provide facilities in the Hebrides for Service trials and training with guided weapons.

This review has confirmed the need for a range in the Hebrides for surface-to-surface rockets. On the other hand, it has shown that it would now he feasible to carry out most of the necessary Service firings with air-to-air and surface-to-air missiles at the Ministry of Supply rocket establishment at Aberporth, and the balance at the Army gunnery range at Ty Croes, in Anglesey. The Government have, therefore, decided to adopt this course and to provide in the Hebrides facilities for firing surface-to-surface rockets only.

This revised plan will require rather less land in the Hebrides than was originally proposed, and will enable the construction programme there to be greatly curtailed. This should appreciably reduce the disturbance caused to the islanders; and arrangements are being made to explain the position to them as soon as possible.

Some additional instrumentation and certain other facilities will have to be provided on the Welsh ranges. After allowing for this, the overall effect will be to bring down the capital cost of the whole scheme from about £20 million to about £5 million. There will also be substantial savings in running costs and in demands upon manpower.

Mr. MacMillan:
In thanking the Minister for the care with which he has prepared the statement that he has just made, may I ask whether I may convey on his behalf the thanks that the Government forgot to extend to the people in the Western Isles for the patience with which they have borne the terrible confusion that this exercise in waste and muddle has caused in the area? Can I now assure my constituents that there will be no further radical revisions; that this is the final decision of the Government on this scheme, which has had such a record of muddle and confusion all through? Will the right hon. Gentleman now do as I asked him a fortnight ago, that is, approach his colleagues in the Government and ask them to be a little more generous in developing schemes of real constructive value to a community which they seem to have discovered only when they required its land for defence purposes?

Mr. Sandys:
I think that the hon. Member knows that I have for a long time had very much at heart the need to try to bring industry and constructive activity to the Highlands and to remote parts such as the Western Isles; but that, of course, is rather outside the scope of this particular Question.

I do not accept that there has been a great deal of waste here—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] Well. £15 million has been saved as a result of the change—[HON. MEMBERS: "Saved?"] £15 million. Up to date, about £½ million has been spent on works, almost all of which will be needed for the surface-to-surface rocket range, with which we are proceeding.

Sir W. Anstruther-Gray:
Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that, provided defence considerations are not prejudiced, this saving of £15 million is very welcome indeed?

Hon. Members:
Saving?

Mr. G. Brown:
May I press the Minister to tell us what the saving is? Presumably, if he had fixed at £100 million the figure for the range not now required for defence purposes, he might have claimed a saving of £85 million. Does he think that that is a genuine saving? Is it not nonsense to put that forward as a saving? Is not the real reason that the Minister and his predecessor decided that defence considerations were so overriding such a short time ago that they could not even give time for a proper inquiry, and that what has changed that enables them, equally vehemently, to say. "We did not need it all; in fact, we need only £5 million worth"?

Mr. Sandys:
A reduction in expenditure which would otherwise have been incurred I regard as being a saving—[Interruption.] We need not argue about that. Quite a number of factors have made this change possible but, in the scope of a supplementary answer, I will mention only two.

First, there is the curtailment of the R.A.F. weapon training programme resulting from the planned reduction in the fighter force announced in the White 388 Paper. Secondly, there is the dropping of certain Ministry of Supply development projects, including development projects connected with the more advanced types of fighter which would have followed the P.1—also announced in the White Paper—which have thrown up spare capacity at Aberporth.

Mr. Bellenger:
The right hon. Gentleman will, of course, be aware that very shortly he and his Service colleagues will be presenting Estimates to the House. Can he give us an assurance that he will have a very careful review made of those Estimates, so that the House will not be asked, in a month or two, to vote considerable sums which later it will be told will not be needed in their entirety?

Mr. Bevan:
More savings.

Mr. Sandys:
As the right hon. Gentleman says, I hope that there may be savings.

Mr. Shinwell:
Can the right hon. Gentleman say which of the seven Ministers of Defence we have had in this Government and in the preceding Conservative Government is responsible for this misguided scheme? Can he give an assurance that it was not any of the Ministers in the last Labour Government?

Can the right hon. Gentleman also say whether the Ministry of Supply bears any responsibility for this scheme? If so, is that not a very substantial reason why we should consider whether the Ministry of Supply is any longer of value?

Mr. Sandys:
That is rather an involved question, but I certainly would not, without notice, absolve the right hon. Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell) of any responsibility.

Mr. Malcolm MacMillan:
May I try, once again, to bring the Minister to his feet on one issue which is of more than ordinary importance to the local people? I refer not only to the disturbance which has been caused in the minds of the people locally, but also to the hardship to some who have been forced from their homes and land; to others forced from their jobs; and to others forced to sell their livestock, without any hope of restoring their livelihood in the foreseeable future.

Is the right hon. Gentleman going to do anything to restore the damage which has already been done there? It is no use saying that there is no waste. The right hon. Gentleman has wasted the livelihood of many of these people, and he has not even said one word in mitigation of the offence.

Mr. Sandys:
I hope that one of the effects of this change of plan will be, as I said in my statement, to reduce the extent of the disturbance to the local life of the community, about which there was so much protest when the scheme was announced. Where crofters—and I think that this is the main issue here—have suffered loss as a result of the scheme, even though they may have suffered loss in connection with some area of land which will not now be required, they will be entitled to put in their claims for compensation to the Scottish Land Court which, as the hon. Gentleman knows, is sitting on this matter at present.

Mr. Grimond:
Is the Minister aware that opinion in Scotland was told that the original scheme was absolutely essential for national security? Is he now saying that that is entirely inaccurate?

Mr. Sandys:
I can only imagine that the hon. Gentleman did not hear what I said in reply to an earlier question, when I explained that as a result of the changes in defence policy, announced in the Defence White Paper last, April, the development programme of the Ministry of Supply—[Interruption.] I hope that the hon. Gentleman will listen to the answer; he asked me a question. The development programme of the Ministry of Supply was in certain respects reduced, with the result that spare capacity was thrown up at the rocket range at Aberporth; and also, as a result of the reduction in the size of the fighter force, the number of firings which it was necessary to carry out for the purposes of training that force was obviously also reduced.

Those factors, and a number of other factors which I cannot go into at this moment, have made it possible to accommodate the Service firings for surface-to-air and air-to-air weapons at Aberporth, supplemented to some extent by the Army gunnery range in Anglesey, and, therefore, have made it unnecessary for us to proceed with all the work in the Hebrides.

Mr. Emrys Hughes:
Is not the truth of this matter that this is a strategic victory over the Minister of Supply and the Secretary of State for Air? Is the right hon. Gentleman satisfied, if the original £20 million was a waste, that the £5 million will not be a waste, too, and that it would not he better to transfer the £5 million to the Secretary of State for Scotland for developing the Highland areas?

Mr. Sandys:
I think that the announcement I have made shows what sweet relations exist between myself, the Service Ministers and the Minister of Supply.

- Hansard, December 4, 1957.[6]

HANSARD 1803–2005 → 1950s → 1957 → December 1957 → 4 December 1957 → Written Answers (Commons) → MINISTRY OF DEFENCE
Rocket Range, The Hebrides
HC Deb 04 December 1957 vol 579 c54W 54W

Mr. Emrys Hughes:
asked the Minister of Defence how much of the proposed £20 million expenditure on the rocket range at South Uist was to be spent this year; how much he estimates will be spent in 1958; and when it is to be completed.

Mr. Sandys:
The expenditure in 1957–58 will be about £500,000. I cannot yet say how much will be spent in 1958–59. It is hoped to start using the Hebrides range some time next year.

- Hansard, December 4, 1957.[7]

HANSARD 1803–2005 → 1950s → 1957 → December 1957 → 9 December 1957 → Commons Sitting → MINISTRY OF SUPPLY
South Uist Rocket Range
HC Deb 09 December 1957 vol 579 c878 878

Mr. Emrys Hughes:
asked the Minister of Supply what expenditure had been incurred by his Department on South Uist Rocket Range.

Mr. W. J. Taylor:
None, Sir.

Mr. Hughes:
Can the hon. Gentleman assure us that he has not purchased for South Uist the type of rocket that exploded last week in the United States of America?

Mr. Taylor:
I can certainly assure the hon. Member of that.

- Hansard, December 9, 1957.[8]

The events inspired the book Rockets Galore (1957) by author and nationalist Compton Mackenzie (Sir Edward Montague Compton Mackenzie, January 17, 1883 – November 30,1972), as a sequel to his earlier success, Whisky Galore (1947), also inspired by a true event (the grounding of the SS Politician, and the subsequent raid on its consignment of 24,000 cases of whisky), both of which became successful films.

The missile testing range was built by the RAF between 1957 and 1958 to launch the Corporal missile, Britain and America's first guided nuclear weapon. The Corporal missile, used in the Cold War, was tested here from 1959 to 1963, before giving way to Sergeant and Lance tactical nuclear missiles. The range has also been used to test high altitude meteorological research rockets, Skua and Petrel. The range is known to have been used for 222 launches from 1962 to 1982, reaching altitudes up to 174 kilometres.[9]

1996 range update

In 1996, the June 17 edition of the Daily Record carried an article relating to the completion of work to update the range and its facilities, suggesting that "Britain wants friendly foreign military men to test their missiles in South Uist to help pay for a recent £14 million facelift to the rocket range in the Outer Hebridean islands".

First unmanned aircraft landing

Laima, Museum of Flight, Seattle, Washington, 2005, Wikipedia
Laima, Museum of Flight, Seattle

The first unmanned aircraft, Laima, which crossed the Atlantic landed at the range on South Uist at 21:44 UTC on August 21, 1998, having taken off from St Johns, Newfoundland at 09:59 UTC on August 20, 1998.[10]

Eurofighter test programme

In the period 2001/2002, the Benbecula Airport was reported to have benefited from a £500,000 upgrade, completed in readiness for its participation in the Eurofighter Typhoon test project. As part of the testing carried out during April 2002, the £16 billion aircraft successfully test fired an AMRAAM (Advanced Medium-Range Air-to-Air Missile) on the South Uist range, which was reported to be the first firing of such a missile from a Eurofighter.

Rocket Range Benbecula

In the 1961 documentary Rocket Range Benbecula, the presence of the military on the island is described as an "invasion of sassenachs".

At the height of the summer testing season, several hundred British Army personnel were stationed on the island.

In the black and white film - clips of which are among the archives of Scottish Screen and BBC's Scotland on Film - islanders give mixed views.

Some welcomed the military, while others worried they were now targets.

The construction of the site came in the wake of the end of World War II and the start of the Cold War - the stand-off between East and West edged by a real fear of nuclear holocaust - and the race to develop weapons of mass destruction.

The Korean War which saw US and British troops in action against forces backed by Russia had been fought in the 1950s, while the period around the time of Rocket Range Benbecula was punctuated by major incidents.

In 1961 an American U2 spy plane was shot down over Russia by a surface to air missile and for 14 days in 1962 the world teetered on the brink of nuclear war as the Cuban Missile Crisis played out.

For one couple interviewed for the documentary the building of the rocket range made Benbecula a target for the Russians.

However, widower and father-of-six Donald Macdonald said he was happy to see the army on the island and said the range was good for the Western Isles and for Britain.

A visit by German military officials to the range was described by the islands' MP Malcolm MacMillan as "a cynical insult to men who saw military service" during World War II.

Yet another islander interviewed for the film said he had no problem with the visit having been treated fairly as a prisoner of war of five years.

In more recent times, the range and its associated facilities on South Uist and also Hirta - the main island on the remote St Kilda archipelago - became a key player in the Western Isles economy.

When the Royal Artillery pulled out, defence technology company QinetiQ took over the management of the site and there was a local campaign to keep the facilities open.

From an invasion of sassenachs, the rocket range emerged as a crucial provider of jobs and investment on the Western Isles.

Scotland on film, media clips:

Closure notice issued and cancelled in 2009

During June 2009, the MoD issued an announcement that it would be scaling back on its operation at the South Uist missile range, with closure anticipated by 2014:

MoD to close key missile testing site
Thursday, June 18, 2009

The MoD plans to scale back its operations at a key missile test range on the Western Isles of Scotland, leaving the Armed Forces with just one missile testing range in the entire UK.

An official announcement yesterday confirmed that the MoD will reduce its work at South Uist missile range and remove all staff from a radar tracking station on St Kilda.

Guided missiles are test fired from South Uist and tracked by a station at St Kilda. It allows the Armed Forces to test the capabilities, accuracy and reliability of its air and sea weapons before they are used in combat situations such as Afghanistan,

The move is being made in conjunction with QinetiQ which runs the missile test range. A QinetiQ facility at Kyle of Lochalsh, near Skye, which operates the underwater testing range at North Rona and Raasay, is also expected to experience heavy cuts.

MoD officials believe the closures will save it £50m. The facilities are expected to be closed by 2014.

Minister for defence equipment and support Quentin Davies acknowledged that there would be a number of job losses due to the cuts, but maintained that the decision was necessary.

"These are tough decisions to make but the financial reasons for making the changes are compelling, and we do hope this will secure a long-term future for operations on the Hebrides and other ranges in Scotland," he told MPs.

Davies said that the MoD had a responsibility to ensure that the defence budget was spent wisely.

Missile testing will continue at Aberporth in Wales, led by QinetiQ.

- Defence Management, June 18, 2009.[11]

As with the announcement of proposals to build the range in 1957, news of the planned closure was greeted with howls of disapproval, and claims that the islands' economy would be ruined as a result. Interestingly, exactly the same claims were made in 1957, with MPs fighting to have the plans cancelled to save the local community, while in 2009, they took up the fight against plans to close the base... to save the local community.

The following stories were recorded as the closure debate took place in the media:

Concerns are mounting about the future of 250 jobs linked to the testing of missiles on the Western Isles.

Storas Uibhist, the community-run landowner on South Uist, said there was speculation locally that jobs could go.

Sites on South Uist, Benbecula and Hirta on the St Kilda archipelago test and track guided weapons.

The Ministry of Defence (MoD) said an announcement concerning the sites would be made on Wednesday. It refused to comment on speculation about jobs.

It denied the sites would be mothballed.

The sites are run on the MoD's behalf by defence company QinetiQ.

Guided weapons are fired out to sea from South Uist and tracked by stations on Benbecula and Hirta.

Huw Francis, of Storas Uibhist, said any job losses would have an impact on the islands' economy following recent cuts in the construction industry.

He said: "There has been a lot of speculation about the facility for quite a long time.

"QinetiQ is one of the largest employers on the islands and they are skilled jobs which are in short supply here."

Storas Uibhist led the community buyout of South Uist Estate and manages 93,000 acres of land covering almost the whole of the islands of Benbecula, Eriskay and South Uist, as well as a number of other small islands.

SNP MP Angus MacNeil said he was seeking clarification from the UK Government and QinetiQ on what was planned for the sites.

He said: "If it is confirmed this week that there are to be major job losses in the defence sector in Uist, then the UK Government are dealing a very heavy blow to the islands.

"If the UK Government has any commitment at all to supporting island jobs and maintaining island populations, they must understand that."

The site on South Uist was formerly used by the Royal Artillery to test weapons.

In 2004, the MoD instructed an environmental survey to be carried out to assess any potential risk from cobalt-60, a radioactive material used to help gauge the performance of the weapons.

Potatoes, lamb flesh and rabbit meat were tested.

The survey concluded that the radiological risk of consuming the foods to the public was negligible.

Islanders' views on the establishment of the range were also the subject of a 1961 documentary, Rocket Range Benbecula.

The fragile Western Isles economy was dealt a bitter blow yesterday (Wednesday) with confirmation that 125 jobs are to go at the Ministry of Defence missile testing station in the Uists.

The cuts account for over half the workforce at the four ranges and facilities operated by private defence technology company QinetiQ in Benbecula, South Uist and St Kilda. Currently 215 people are employed at the base — down from 500 in the 1980s — but by the end of 2014 that number will be reduced to just 90, with most of the 125 jobs expected to go in 2013.

Twenty jobs linked to the underwater testing range off Raasay are also expected to go by 2014.

The announcement also signals the total withdrawal of the MoD from St Kilda, with potential ramifications for the future maintenance of the World Heritage Site.

The MoD will now embark on a 30-day consultation on the proposals, although this comes with a coded warning that they are unlikely to accept any significant departure from their original plans.

The proposals, which the MoD claim will result in cost savings of £50 million over a 20-year period, centre on upgrading their existing air range base in Aberporth, Wales. While officially the Hebrides range will remain open, trials will be controlled remotely and as a result the command and control centre on South Uist and one of the accommodation blocks at West Camp in Balivanich will close.

Defence minister Quentin Davies said: "I know that this will be very disappointing news for the staff at our ranges and I do not under-estimate the impact these proposals and job losses will have on the Hebrides community, especially in the current recession.

"These are tough decisions to make but the financial reasons for making the changes are compelling and we do hope this will secure a long-term future for operations on the Hebrides and other ranges in Scotland."

Speaking from the Hebrides Range base in Balivanich, Alan Dukes, MoD test team leader, said they would welcome a wide range of views during the consultation period.

However, he added: "It’s fair to say that in terms of the consultation it would be unrealistic that we would tear it all up and start again, simply because we are confident that the depth of the analysis has covered all the avenues."

Mr Duke stressed that the Hebrides Range remained an important facility to the MoD and said he expected its frequency of use by visiting units and personnel to continue.

The base in the Western Isles is managed by QinetiQ under an arrangement set up in 2001. They have a 25-year contract to oversee the facility, but that is subject to reviews every five years.

The move has angered many in the local community, where the MoD have largely been well received over the past half-century.

Local councillor Peter Carlin, who runs a laundry business near the base, said: "Forty to sixty per cent of our business comes from the MoD so it will affect my own business in a big way.

"It’s going to affect Uist in a big way. Something like 250 jobs in the local community are dependent on the MoD and a major downturn in a fragile island community will have a devastating effect, both on families and businesses that supply goods to the base."

Angus Brendan MacNeil, the SNP MP for the Western Isles, put an emergency motion to the Commons yesterday, calling for a debate. He told the chamber: "South Uist and North Uist and Benbecula cannot cope with this level of cuts. In a major city like Glasgow they would be the equivalent of six to seven thousand jobs gone at the stroke of a pen. To an island community it is infinitely worse — it means depopulation or employment opportunities that after eight hours away by ferry."

He added: "An entire community has shaped itself to fulfil its needs of the range, a service and sacrifice which entailed forgoing many opportunities. The MoD through QinetiQ cannot walk away leaving chaos and a vacuum behind."

Peter Peacock, Labour MSP for the Highlands and Islands, said: "This is a very disappointing development and represents a real blow to the economy of the islands.

"The sums of money involved represent very small cash savings for the MoD of around £2 million per year and my colleagues and I will work with others to make as strong a case as possible for the retention of facilities and jobs within the consultation announced. I note that the MoD say they will consider workable alternatives and that is a task everyone must look at closely.

"I have already pledged my support to the comhairle in any constructive representations they wish to make to the MoD and UK Government."

The National Trust for Scotland, who own St Kilda, warned that the MoD’s withdrawal from the archipelago would severely jeopardise their ability to oversee a site of huge environmental importance.

Chief executive Kate Mavor said: "St Kilda is one of the world’s natural and cultural treasures and the trust is very privileged to have such an important site in its care. We are very concerned by the possibility that the base on Hirta would no longer be manned.

"Without the support of the MoD and the infrastructure that they have in place there, there is no doubt that we would find it very difficult to give St Kilda the level of care and attention that it requires."

About 125 jobs are set to be lost at a missile test firing range on the Western Isles are to go, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) has announced.

Twenty jobs linked to an underwater range near Raasay, off Skye, are also expected to go, along with two at a site on the Clyde.

West Freugh, a military range and test facility near Stranraer, will not be affected.

Cuts are being made as part of an effort by the MoD to make £50m savings.

The savings and staff reductions are to be achieved by 2028, the MoD said.

The largest share of the cuts are being made on the Western Isles, where there are four ranges and facilities on Benbecula, South Uist and St Kilda. They are operated by private defence technology company QinetiQ.

The job losses account for more than half the workforce.

The SNP group on Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, Western Isles council, has joined forces with local Nationalist MSP Alasdair Allan and MP Angus MacNeil in condemning the proposed losses.

Planned job losses in QinetiQ and contractors follow changes to how the ranges will be controlled.

The ranges' radar tracking station on Hirta - the main island of the St Kilda archipelago - is to be unmanned.

It will be operated remotely with staff only visiting for maintenance and servicing.

The ranges' command and control centre on South Uist is to close by 2014 and the rocket trials on the Hebrides run instead from Aberporth in Wales using new technology.

West Camp - an Army base at Balivanich, Benbecula - will remain open but one accommodation block will close meaning fewer domestic staff will be needed.

The camp is linked to training with the Rapier air defence missile system which is used by the Royal Artillery and RAF.

A 30 working days consultation period inviting views on the proposals has started.

Defence Minister Quentin Davies said: "I know that this will be very disappointing news for the staff at our ranges, and I do not underestimate the impact these proposals and job losses will have on the Hebrides community, especially in the recession."

RANGES FACT FILE
How the announcement affects UK air and sea weapons ranges:
Western Isles - command centre to close, radar station controlled remotely with about 125 job losses
Raasay - changes planned to the underwater range. About 20 posts to be cut
Clyde - two jobs to go with changes to control of underwater sonar and magnetic ranges
Aberporth - the Welsh site take over the control of the Hebrides range
West Freugh - no change in near future at the Wigtonshire site
Larkhill - no change in near future at the Wiltshire site

Anger, disappointment and pledges to fight job cuts have followed the announcement on proposed job cuts at Scottish test firing ranges.

More than half the workforce at four ranges and their control centre in the Hebrides could go.

Politicians, Highlands and Islands Enterprise and local authority Comhairle nan Eilean Siar have spoken out on the plans.

Here is a snapshot of reaction and comment so far:

UK GOVERNMENT

Defence Minister Quentin Davies: "I know that this will be very disappointing news for the staff at our ranges, and I do not underestimate the impact these proposals and job losses will have on the Hebrides community, especially in the current recession.

"These are tough decisions to make but the financial reasons for making the changes are compelling, and we do hope this will secure a long term future for operations on the Hebrides and other ranges in Scotland.

"We do welcome comments and ideas from the community during the consultation period and will consider any alternative workable solutions.

"We will also ensure most of the changes take place over three or four years which will allow people to find new postings or jobs.

"We have a responsibility to ensure taxpayers money and the defence budget is spent wisely, and as defence evolves and technology advances, we must adjust our operations accordingly."

SNP

Alasdair Allan MSP: "If this is supposed to be consultation with the community by the UK Government and its contractor, why did the workforce here have to rely on the local media to learn of their fate?

"We must now all work together to make the UK Government understand the terrible consequences these job losses would have for Uist at such economically tough times. The MoD must either be prepared to reconsider, or provide an indication of how they will rebuild the economy in Uist after them."

Angus MacNeil MP: "The range in Uist is clearly the best of their type in the UK if not in Europe, and the MoD have to explain whether they are satisfied for their contractors to withdraw so much of their activity from it.

"I have already raised this with the UK Government and will do so again with the Commons select Committee on Defence. Uist people have given their full cooperation to the bases over the decades and now deserve fair treatment in return."

Comhairle nan Eilean Siar SNP group leader Donald Manford: "Today confirms what has been feared for some days now - the UK Government is prepared to preside over massive job losses in Uist.

"This is devastating news for this community, which has cooperated with the Ministry of Defence and its contractors for over 50 years, and come to depend heavily on them for work."

LABOUR

Peter Peacock, Highlands and Islands Labour MSP:

"This is a very disappointing development and represents a real blow to the economy of the islands.

"It is not clear to me whether this is a move initiated by QinetiQ to maximise their convenience and profits within an existing contract framework, or is being driven by specific defence needs.

"It is hard to see how it is driven by defence needs as the Uists and Raasay are facilities which offers a unique combination of assets that it seems to me impossible to replicate elsewhere in quite the same way - that is why the facilities have been there for so many years.

"The sums of money involved represent very small cash savings for the MoD of around £2M per year and my colleagues and I will work with others to make as strong a case as possible for the retention of facilities and jobs within the consultation announced.

"I note that the MoD say they will consider workable alternatives and that is a task everyone must look at closely."

HIGHLANDS AND ISLANDS ENTERPRISE

HIE chairman William Roe: "The action being proposed by the MoD is a devastating blow to the economy of the Uists and HIE is fully committed to standing shoulder to shoulder with its partner agencies and the community to challenge this decision.

"We believe these plans fail to take account of the sites' value and we will be doing everything in our power to find a way to put pressure on the MoD and its operator QinetiQ to seek another option."

He added: "QinetiQ is the largest private sector employer in the Western Isles and HIE will be pressing for very clear explanations on what forces are at work within the international defence industry which could have prompted this proposal.

"It is vital we find solutions to protect these vital jobs which play such a major part in the economic sustainability of the area."

COMHAIRLE NAN EILEAN SIAR

Comhairle leader, Angus Campbell: "The comhairle will make every effort to avert the threatened job losses at the Uist Test Range and we have already made contact with key players in this developing situation asking them to intervene as a matter of urgency.

"At this time we await further information from the MoD but we are mobilising support from all quarters to prevent this potential devastating economic blow to the Uist economy."

The remotest island group of the British Isles will be put at risk if a radar station is left unmanned, the National Trust for Scotland has warned.

The Ministry of Defence (MoD) and contractor QinetiQ plan to control the site on Hirta, St Kilda, remotely as part of proposed £50m savings.

NTS, which owns the islands, said staff at the test rocket tracking station helped to protect the environment.

The MoD said it would try to minimise the impact of recalling staff.

NTS said radar personnel were a deterrent against vandalism by visitors and assisted in monitoring potential environmental threats.

A further benefit to NTS is that the military shares travel costs of getting to the archipelago, which lies 41 miles into the Atlantic from the Western Isles.

The radar station is staffed all year, mostly by civilian staff, while trust wardens stay on Hirta from April to September.

Without the assistance of the MoD and QinetiQ the trust said the islands could lose their status as the UK's only dual Unesco World Heritage site.

The radar station on Hirta - the largest island on St Kilda - tracks missiles test fired from ranges in the Western Isles.

On Wednesday the MoD announced a series of proposed changes to how its ranges operate.

NTS, which is in the process of making cost savings of its own, said it would struggle to protect the islands' wildlife and archaeological sites alone.

Chief executive Kate Mavor said: "Without the support of the MoD and the infrastructure that they have in place there, there is no doubt that we would find it very difficult to give St Kilda the level of care and attention that it requires."

She added: "The trust would also face a massive increase in costs to maintain our work there and to deal with the redundant MoD buildings.

"At a time when the organisation is working hard to improve its financial sustainability, this is a cost that we can ill afford.

"However, of more concern is the risk that this proposal poses to the environmental and cultural treasures which make St Kilda so special. I would urge the MoD to give full consideration to these issues, before making any final decision."

Last February radar personnel helped monitor the state of a trawler which ran aground on Hirta during a storm.

The 14 crew were rescued but there were concerns about the risk posed by its fuel and cargo of fish.

Fears rats were on the boat were later allayed after baited traps were laid, but remained empty.

Remaining islanders

St Kilda has a long association with the military.

During World War I a Royal Navy detachment to Hirta meant regular deliveries of mail and food for sailors and the islands' residents.

However, the end of the war and withdrawal of the unit reinforced a feeling of isolation among the community.

In 1930 the remaining 36 islanders requested to be taken off St Kilda and moved to the mainland.

Defence technology company QinetiQ lists its role in helping to manage the island group in the key facts section of its website.

The MoD said it would work closely with NTS and Scottish Natural Heritage on its plans for the St Kilda station.

Planned cuts to missile test ranges staff on the Western Isles could have a knock-on effect on wildlife habitat, RSPB Scotland have said.

Some of those employed on Benbecula and South Uist also run crofts and farm fertile grasslands, known as machair, using traditional methods.

RSPB warden Jamie Boyle said the machair was key to the survival of rare species such as corncrake.

He said if the crofting stopped, the grasslands would be lost.

Mr Boyle said: "If you look at the wildlife on the islands, up to 50% of it is reliant upon active crofting. It wouldn't be there otherwise.

"The islands are important to the UK population of corncrakes. About 75% of these birds could be lost if there is a big reduction in the amount of crofting."

The warden said the rare birds and wild plants on the machair had helped boost wildlife tourism on the islands over the last 10 years.

Harvested quicker

Corncrake are a long-distance migratory species that winter in sub-Saharan Africa and come to the UK in summer to breed.

Their favoured habitat is tall grasses and herbs, particularly hay and silage meadows.

However, in the late 19th Century the mechanisation of farming led to crops being harvested quicker and the corncrake population plummeted. The species became restricted to the Hebridean islands on the west coast of Scotland.

In 1993, the British population was estimated at just 480 males heard calling for mates.

But by the last national survey in 2003 this figure had almost doubled to 832 males.

Since then, annual counts have shown that the population increase continued throughout the 2000s, and in 2007 the population in its Scottish strongholds hit a high of more than 1,270 calling males.

However, this number declined in 2008 by 8% to 1,140.

The Ministry of Defence and contractor QinetiQ plan to make job cuts as part of a proposed £50m in savings.

The first meeting of a special taskforce trying to save 125 jobs at rocket test ranges on the Western Isles is due to be held.

Defence contractor QinetiQ runs the sites on South Uist and Benbecula and also St Kilda on behalf of the Ministry of Defence (MoD).

Downsizing of staff numbers are part of plans aimed at saving about £50m.

Public bodies, including local authority Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, are on the taskforce.

DAVID ROSS, Highland Correspondent June 25 2009

THE defence of the economy of the Uists began in earnest yesterday when the task force set up to fight Ministry of Defence plans to axe 125 jobs at the Hebrides missile range met for the first time on Benbecula.

If implemented the MoD plan would mean that one in six jobs in the southern isles would be lost as QuinetiQ the private contractor running Range Hebrides, move the command and control centre for missile firing to its base at Aberporth in south Wales in an effort to save £50m.

Another part of the plan is to withdraw the military's permanent presence from St Kilda, the base for the tracking station for missiles fired

Angus Campbell, leader of Western Isles Council, was elected as chair of the Hebrides Range Task Force (HRTF) yesterday. Following a meeting of the group, he said: "Today's meeting is the beginning of a determined campaign by all the agencies and community representatives present to challenge the proposals put forward by the Ministry of Defence and contractor QinetiQ last week. We are resolved in our commitment to fight these changes."

The task force had agreed an action plan to fight for the retention of jobs. One of the first priorities would be to ensure an extension of the 30-day consultation period on the proposals.

Highlands and Islands Enterprise chairman William Roe said: "Given the magnitude of the social and economic impact the proposed job losses would have, we are calling for an extension to the consultation period.

"It is the task force's aim to ensure that any decision which claims to make savings for one arm of the government takes full account of the true social and economic impact on the community, including the potential costs of creating and funding an economic recovery plan."

Angus Macmillan, chairman of Storas Uibhist, the community body that owns most of South Uist, said: "The loss of 125 jobs in Uist is equivalent to 25,000 jobs in Glasgow. This disastrous proposal from the MoD and QinetiQ will be fought strenuously by this community."

Plans to cut missile testing facilities in the Western Isles should be subject to a longer consultation, according to Scotland's finance secretary.

The Ministry of Defence announced last month that about 125 jobs could go at firing ranges operated by defence contractor QinetiQ.

John Swinney welcomed a three-week extension to the consulation period, but said it should last 90 days.

The minister is due to meet a taskforce opposed to the plans on Thursday.

The cuts affect four ranges and facilities on Benbecula, South Uist and St Kilda.

A taskforce has been set up including representatives from the Scottish Government, Cohhairle nan Eilean Siar, Highland and Islands Enterprise and other key agencies.

Mr Swinney said: "The case against these job cuts and the effect they would have on the Uists as remote island communities is compelling.

"Both at a local and national level, the taskforce set up to push for alternative solutions is compiling strong evidence that this course of action is the wrong route to take."

The leader of Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, Angus Campbell, welcomed his support for a longer consultation period.

He said: "All we're asking for is the time to prepare proposals.

"Surely it can't make much difference to the MoD so I would appeal to them to give us the courtesy of an adequate and meaningful consultation period.

"The employees at Qinetiq and the wider community deserve that at least."

New research

A socio-economic study has been commissioned by Highland and Islands Enterprise (HIE).

HIE chairman, William Roe, said: "The communities affected by this announcement are making a highly valuable contribution to QinetiQ's operations and possess some tremendous assets.

"We need additional time to properly investigate options which provide continued employment for those whose jobs are under threat while satisfying the demands that prompted QinetiQ into proposing this action."

The MoD is seeking to make £50m of saving by 2028. It initially announced a 30-day consultation period.

The taskforce set up to save 125 threatened jobs at rocket test ranges on the Western Isles has met Scottish Secretary Jim Murphy.

Defence contractor QinetiQ runs the sites on South Uist and Benbecula on behalf of the Ministry of Defence, along with one on St Kilda.

The move to cut staff numbers is part of plans aimed at saving about £50m.

The taskforce includes public bodies including local authority Comhairle nan Eilean Siar.

Group chairman Angus Campbell said Mr Murphy was well aware about the impact of staff reductions would have on jobs and the islands economy.

He said Defence Minister Quentin Davies was also now expected to visit the isles.

Mr Campbell added: "Mr Murphy also stated that one of the options at the end of the consultation period would be to defer the matter to allow further consideration of alternative options.

"In the meantime the taskforce emphasised that it is vital that we have access to the fullest information to allow us and the teams we have commissioned to prepare a robust response to the MoD's proposals."

A website has been launched in the fight to save threatened jobs on rocket test ranges in the Western Isles.

Once fully up and running, www.hebridesrangetaskforce.co.uk will have a message board to allow the public to post views on the plans.

Defence contractor QinetiQ runs the sites on South Uist and Benbecula on behalf of the Ministry of Defence, along with one on St Kilda.

The move to cut 125 staff is part of plans aimed at saving about £50m.

Hebrides Range Taskforce chairman Angus Campbell said the website was essential to taking the campaign forward.

He added: "It will also open up the campaign to a potential worldwide audience and we would hope that people from the Western Isles who are living or working abroad will be able to keep up to date with what's happening."

The ranges and a tracking station on St Kilda are used for the testing of weapons systems, including the Rapier surface-to-air missile defence.

DAVID ROSS, Highland Correspondent August 03 2009

Campaigners have warned that a loss of defence jobs in the Western Isles will have an impact equivalent to the Royal Bank of Scotland and the Bank of Scotland both closing their doors in Edinburgh, or 300,000 jobs being axed in London.

The comparisons will be made during a crucial ministerial visit to the Uists tomorrow, which could help decide the future of the Hebrides Rocket Range.

Quentin Davies, minister for defence procurement, will be left in no doubt as to the consequences if QinetiQ, the private contractor running the Hebrides Range, is allowed to move the command and control centre for missile firing to Aberporth in South Wales in an effort to save £50m. It would mean the loss of 125 direct QinetiQ jobs, and perhaps as many associated jobs.

Angus Campbell, leader of Western Isles Council and chairman of the multi-agency Hebrides Range Task Force, acknowledges that, out of context, the total is small beer in a recession-hit UK.

"But you are talking about more than 20% of the working population of the Uists, since North Uist, Benbecula and South Uist combined have a population of 4600. That's the level of impact you are talking about. Some 90 jobs would be left, but the reduction would be dramatic and it would be cruel given what the community has contributed."

The task-force was set up to fight the QinetiQ proposal, which would also mean the end of a permanent team of 12 people on St Kilda, the tracking station for missiles fired from South Uist.

Mr Davies is planning to go to St Kilda. "St Kilda will allow him to see for himself just what a unique facility this is and the potential it has for expansion. Many other countries could be using it, but at present there is only a small amount of international use," said Mr Campbell.

"We believe it could earn considerable amounts, not just for QinetiQ, but also the government. Money that would put in the projected savings into the shade."

He said there was no other facility in Europe with the tracking capability of the St Kilda/Uist operation, which allows two exercises at the same time. That was why defence experts had been commissioned by the task-force to look at the range's assets.

Angus MacMillan, who chairs the community-led Storas Uibhist that owns the 90,000 South Uist estate, said the government should think about opportunities for the aerospace industry using the range.

"It is a positive message we are trying to get over, and we are encouraged that Mr Davies has honoured his promise to come here," he said.

But people are worried. Father Michael MacDonald said there was deep concern in his parish at the north end of South Uist. "People are apprehensive, fearful. Round about here virtually every household will have somebody working for QinetiQ, and most will have two," said Fr MacDonald.

"There is a real career structure. The head of security, head of technical, head of operations are all local people. There is a programme for apprentices. There is nothing to replace it."

In 1994, there were threats of closure with 500 jobs at risk. The large military presence on the site was reduced, and the operation of the range was handed over to a civilian operation through the MoD's defence evaluation and research agency, which was subsequently privatised to become QinetiQ. This civilianisation programme managed to keep many of the jobs in the Uists, jobs that are again under threat.

The National Trust for Scotland has warned it will struggle to maintain St Kilda - the UK's only Dual World Heritage Site - if the proposals are approved, because it shares many costs with the MoD.

Published Date: 04 August 2009
By JOHN ROSS

THE defence minister Quentin Davies will today face a demonstration by young islanders protesting at planned jobs cuts at a weapons testing range in the Outer Hebrides.

The Ministry of Defence and contractor QinetiQ unveiled plans in June to restructure the base in South Uist, Benbecula and St Kilda which could see the loss of 125 jobs.

Mr Davies plans to visit St Kilda today and tomorrow will meet with members of a task force set up to fight the proposals.

A group of youngsters aged between ten and 21, mostly children of staff who could lose their jobs, plans to hold a protest when the minister arrives in Benbecula this morning.

One of the group said: "This would be disastrous to the community and the islands economy. The young people are going to have their point of view on the matter heard.

"Children don't want their parents to lose their jobs or their community destroyed. We feel very strongly about this matter, and will do our best, as the young people, and the future of the islands, to make sure the minister knows what he'll be doing by cutting those jobs, other than saving the MOD a few pounds."

A rocket test range on the Western Isles could be turned around to make a profit, the chairman of community landowner Storas Uibhist has argued.

The Ministry of Defence (MoD) contractor QinetiQ is to cut 125 jobs across sites linked to the range.

Ahead of a meeting with Defence Minister Quentin Davies, Angus MacMillan said consideration should be given to expanding the range.

Storas Uibhist owns large parts of Benbecula, Eriskay and South Uist.

On Tuesday, Mr Davies visited Hirta, St Kilda, where the range radar tracking station is located. Under the planned cuts it would be operated remotely with staff only visiting for maintenance and servicing.

The command and control centre on South Uist has been earmarked for closure by 2014. Rocket trials would run instead from Aberporth in Wales using new technology.

West Camp - an Army base at Balivanich, Benbecula - would remain open but one accommodation block would close , reducing the need for domestic staff.

The camp is linked to training on the Rapier air defence missile system which is used by the Royal Artillery and RAF.

A 30-working-day consultation period inviting views on the proposals began on 17 June.

Mr MacMillan said he hoped a meeting between Mr Davies and those campaigning to save the threatened jobs would convince the minister to abandon the plan, or allow more time to consider the cuts.

He said: "The biggest constraint is the contract between QinetiQ and the MoD which only allows for savings and not for looking at other alternatives for expanding the facility and look at profits that could be generated.

"That is a very strong plank in the argument we are putting forward."

Mr MacMillan added: "We have had an extremely good hearing so far from the Treasury, Number Ten and the MoD. They are listening at this time."

The taskforce set up to fight the cuts - part of plans aimed at saving about £50m - has already met Scottish Secretary Jim Murphy.

The campaign group includes public bodies such as local authority Comhairle nan Eilean Siar.

A decision on the future of a rocket test range and its associated sites is expected within weeks following a visit by the defence minister.

Quentin Davies flew to Hirta in St Kilda, the site of the range's tracking station, before meeting campaigners opposed to planned cuts to 125 jobs.

Public consultation on the proposals is due to end in two weeks time.

Islands council Comhairle nan Eilean Siar and community landowner Storas Uibhist have opposed the cuts.

Mr Davies and Scottish Secretary Jim Murphy previously met with campaigners in London.

Before leaving the Western Isles following a two-day visit, Mr Davies said: "I was pleased to be able to visit the Hebrides range.

"When Jim Murphy and I met with the local taskforce in London in July, I undertook to visit the Hebrides range and St Kilda during the consultation period.

"The opportunity to see the range, to talk to the workforce, meet local representatives and to hear their views has been invaluable. I would certainly not have been able to take an informed decision without it."

Ahead of the latest meeting with the defence minister, Storas Uibhist chairman Angus MacMillan said consideration should be given to expanding the range.

The community landowner controls large parts of Benbecula, Eriskay and South Uist.

Under the planned cuts by the Ministry of Defence (MoD) and contractor QinetiQ, the radar station on Hirta would be operated remotely with staff only visiting for maintenance and servicing.

The command and control centre on South Uist has been earmarked for closure by 2014. Rocket trials would run instead from Aberporth in Wales using new technology.

West Camp - an Army base at Balivanich, Benbecula - would remain open but one accommodation block would close , reducing the need for domestic staff.

The camp is linked to training on the Rapier air defence missile system which is used by the Royal Artillery and RAF.

Threatened jobs

A 30-working-day consultation period inviting views on the proposals began on 17 June.

Mr MacMillan had hoped the meeting between Mr Davies and those campaigning to save the threatened jobs would convince the minister to abandon the plan, or allow more time to consider the cuts.

He said: "The biggest constraint is the contract between QinetiQ and the MoD which only allows for savings and not for looking at other alternatives for expanding the facility for example and look at profits that could be generated.

"That is a very strong plank in the argument we are putting forward."

The taskforce set up to fight the cuts - part of plans aimed at saving about £50m - has already met Mr Murphy.

The campaign group includes public bodies such as local authority Comhairle nan Eilean Siar.

A member of the Commons defence select committee has been invited to tour the Uist rocket range where the Ministry of Defence (MoD) plans to axe 125 jobs.

MP Robert Key will meet representatives from both QinetiQ, the range operator, and the MoD.

Defence minister Quentin Davies is due to announce his decision on downsizing the range's workforce this month.

Western Isles MP Angus MacNeil said he hoped the visit would place further pressure on the UK government.

Mr MacNeil said: "This is really a warning shot to the defence minister that if he does axe the jobs, the defence select committee will still maintain an interest in what is going on and there are a number of questions around the haste with which the decision has been made."

Under the planned cuts by the MoD and contractor QinetiQ, the radar station on Hirta would be operated remotely with staff only visiting for maintenance and servicing.

The command and control centre on South Uist has been earmarked for closure by 2014. Rocket trials would run instead from Aberporth in Wales using new technology.

West Camp - an Army base at Balivanich, Benbecula - would remain open but one accommodation block would close, reducing the need for domestic staff.

The camp is linked to training on the Rapier air defence missile system which is used by the Royal Artillery and RAF.

A job advert for a project manager to "dismantle" the Benbecula missile test range has been posted, despite the MoD insisting no decision has been made.

The Ministry of Defence (MoD) site in the Western Isles is operated by contractor QinetiQ, which has posted the advert on its internal website.

Local MSP Alasdair Allan said he will be raising the matter at Holyrood.

The MoD said no final decision has been made on a "modernisation" plan, which would result in the loss of 125 jobs.

Mr Allan said: "It is very difficult to read this job advert any other way: QinetiQ, it seems, are looking for someone who will oversee the dismantling of the command and control functions at Hebrides Range, leading to the operation of much of its activities by remote control from Aberporth in Wales.

"How does that square with all the protestations from QinetiQ, the MoD and the Secretary of State for Scotland that they are genuinely listening?"

The QinetiQ advert seeks a "Deputy Project Manager, Integrated Air Ranges Operations" for "a very large Air Range Transformation project (£40M+) that will undertake Range modernisation, integration of Command and Control functions for the Aberporth and Hebrides Ranges, and implement remote control and monitoring of much of the Hebrides Range T&E equipment".

Under the proposals being considered by the MoD and QinetiQ, the radar station on Hirta in St Kilda would be operated remotely with staff only visiting for maintenance and servicing.

The command and control centre on South Uist has been earmarked for closure by 2014. Rocket trials would run instead from Aberporth in Wales using new technology.

West Camp - an army base at Balivanich, Benbecula - would remain open but one accommodation block would close, reducing the need for domestic staff.

The camp is linked to training on the Rapier air defence missile system which is used by the Royal Artillery and RAF.

'Missile trials'

At present 215 people work at the Benbecula range, but acceptance of the modernisation proposals would see 125 jobs cut.

An MoD spokeswoman said that "categorically" no decision has been taken and that the job advert "is entirely a matter for QinetiQ".

Meanwhile, a spokesman for QinetiQ said that the MoD had previously "agreed in principle for the command and control centre on South Uist to close by 2013-2014, and for missile trials on the Hebrides to be controlled from Aberporth instead using new technology".

He added: "MoD also announced that it would gather comments and views from the community and those affected by the changes.

"As the contractor operating and managing the Hebrides range on behalf of the MOD we have commenced some planning in support of this announcement.

"This is prudent business practice and in no way pre-empts the outcome of the public consultation which has yet to be announced."

An announcement on the fate of the MoD firing range in Uist is expected to be made later.

At the weekend, an advert was posted for a project manager to "dismantle" the site, but the MoD said no decision had been made.

The Western Isles base is operated for the MoD by private contractor QinetiQ.

A proposal to modernise the facility with the loss of 125 jobs has been accepted in principle by the MoD and put out to consultation.

Scottish Secretary Jim Murphy held talks with Defence Secretary Bob Ainsworth on Monday and is due to fly to Uist to meet staff at the range.

Remote operation

The job advert - which has been posted internally on QinetiQ's website - was met with an angry reaction from Western Isles MSP Alasdair Allan on Monday.

The SNP MSP pledged to seek answers at Holyrood, and said: "It is very difficult to read this job advert any other way: QinetiQ, it seems, are looking for someone who will oversee the dismantling of the command and control functions at Hebrides Range, leading to the operation of much of its activities by remote control from Aberporth in Wales.

"How does that square with all the protestations from QinetiQ, the MoD and the Secretary of State for Scotland that they are genuinely listening?"

The proposed modernisation of the range would see 125 of 215 jobs cut as a result of the radar station on Hirta in St Kilda being operated remotely, with staff only visiting for maintenance and servicing.

The command and control centre on South Uist has been earmarked for closure by 2014. Rocket trials would run instead from Aberporth in Wales using new technology.

West Camp - an army base at Balivanich, Benbecula - would remain open but one accommodation block would close, reducing the need for domestic staff.

The camp is linked to training on the Rapier air defence missile system which is used by the Royal Artillery and RAF.

On Monday an MoD spokeswoman said no decision had been made on the base's future, but that an announcement would likely be made within the next week.

Plans to cut jobs at a missile range and its associated sites on the Western Isles have been abandoned, the Scottish Secretary Jim Murphy has said.

The range's command and control centre on South Uist was to close and rocket tests run remotely from South Wales.

Staff were also to be pulled out of the range's tracking station on Hirta, St Kilda, and West Camp on Benbecula was to be downgraded.

Mr Murphy's announcement was met by cheers from staff.

The sites are operated for the Ministry of Defence (MoD) by defence technology contractor QinetiQ.

It had been proposed to cut 125 jobs as part of a wider programme of defence savings aimed at reducing MoD costs by £40m.

Campaigners and politicians have welcomed the announcement.

Mr Murphy made the announcement to staff who had gathered at the South Uist site.

Defence Minister Quentin Davies, who previously met campaigners, was unable to make the announcement himself because of a long standing commitment to visit the US.

In a statement, he said he had been impressed by the arguments for saving the sites.

Later, Mr Murphy told BBC Scotland the facilities were of strategic importance to the UK.

He said: "We have decided after looking at the figures that the jobs will be saved.

"The firing range and control station will remain, these 125 jobs will stay, because ultimately while the MoD may have made some savings, the cost to the islands, the islands' families and the economy would have been too great."

He added: "It is here, it is here to stay."

The Hebrides Range Taskforce said range should now be expanded and made available for the testing of unmanned aerial vehicles - aircraft used to spy and attack targets.

Angus Campbell, leader of Western Isles council Comhairle nan Eilean Siar and taskforce chairman, said the announcement was good news for the islands.

He said: "The taskforce believes the proposals were ill thought out.

"They would have irreparably damaged the UK's defence capability and the economy of a fragile community as well as putting St Kilda, the UK's only Dual World Heritage site, at risk."

National Trust for Scotland, which owns St Kilda, previously expressed concerns that the withdrawal of test range staff from Hirta would seriously harm its ability to manage the remote island archipelago.

A trust spokeswoman said: "We're delighted that the proposal to de-staff St Kilda has been abandoned, along with the plans to reduce staff on Benbecula and the Uists.

"This means that the trust's activities on the island will remain unaffected. St Kilda is still a challenging site to manage due to its remote location, but this is very good news for us indeed."

Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE), a member of the taskforce, also welcomed the move not to change the running of missile tests.

Chairman William Roe said: "This decision is testimony to the speed and determination shown by the community and its public agencies in putting together a number of compelling arguments which challenged the narrow perspective offered on current and future use of the range."

'Huge relief'

The islands' SNP MP Angus MacNeil and MSP Dr Alasdair Allan hailed the decision.

Dr Allan said: "This climb down is a huge relief for the workers and their families, and a tremendous victory for the community campaign to save these jobs."

The taskforce's efforts were applauded by Labour Highlands and Islands MSP Peter Peacock.

He said: "The local task force and community are to be congratulated on their fantastic campaign and Jim Murphy and his Westminster colleagues deserve the utmost credit for doing a great job for the islands."

Campaigners who fought the planned downgrading of an island rocket range are making a case for it to be used in the testing of unmanned aircraft.

The UK government announced on Tuesday it had abandoned proposals to cut jobs and the running of the range at South Uist and associated sites.

The Hebrides Range Taskforce has now called for the trialling of unmanned aerial vehicles to be fully embraced.

The range is said to be the largest of its kind in Europe.

A barrier to expansion is the terms of the contract between the Ministry of Defence (MoD) and contractor QinetiQ, which are too restrictive, the taskforce said.

Defence technology giant QinetiQ operates the islands range and associated sites for the MoD.

Taskforce chairman Angus Campbell said: "We continue to call for the MoD to review its long-term partnership agreement with QinetiQ, as this prevents either party from exploring more ambitious options to make the UK a world leader in technology such as the development of unmanned aerial vehicles."

He added: "We must continue to make the case for the range as a prime asset for the UK and one that could, and should, be developed. In addition, the economy of the Uists must be strengthened and diversified."

Donald Booth, managing director of Dunfermline-based Economic Development and Defence, said it could be opened up for the testing of both commercial and military vehicles.

He said UAVs have been flown at the range in the past, but more work could be done on the islands and close ties forged with aerospace research projects at Scottish universities.

Because UAVs are not approved by the Civil Aviation Authority, they have to be flown in segregated air space - protected areas where they will not pose a risk to civilian aircraft.

Mr Booth said: "The Hebrides range has 35,000 square kilometres of segregated air space making it the largest range in Europe.

"It could be used for the development of military UAVs, but also those for a huge civilian market.

"Drones are being proposed for dangerous and dull missions such as targeting speeding cars on motorways, monitoring incidents and checking power and pipe lines."

British forces have used UAV spy drones in Afghanistan.

The MoD showcased current and next-generation UAVs at an exhibition in March.

The event was held as part of National Science and Engineering Week - an annual event celebrating science, engineering and technology - and to give manufacturers the chance to show off some of their creations.

The US is the world's biggest user and developer of unmanned aircraft - including the £38m MQ-9 Reaper.

Defence procurement minister Quentin Davis has said the Ministry of Defence would launch a campaign to market the Uist rocket range in the New Year.

Mr Davis has written to Western Isles Council emphasising there would be no back tracking on the decision earlier this year to save the base.

He has also offered the help of his officials in plans to diversify the local economy.

Plans to axe 125 jobs at the range were scrapped in September.

Mr Davis said the marketing campaign would attempt to attract both domestic and foreign investors to help develop new ideas for diversifying the economy of the islands.

The range's command and control centre on South Uist was to close and rocket tests run remotely from South Wales.

Staff were also to be pulled out of the range's tracking station on Hirta in St Kilda, while West Camp on Benbecula was to be downgraded.

Proposals to cut defence jobs linked to testing submarine torpedoes in the Sound of Raasay have been dropped by the Ministry of Defence (MoD).

The plans to shed 20 posts were announced at the same time as proposed cuts at defence sites on the Western Isles, which were later abandoned.

The MoD has asked contractor QinetiQ to withdraw the Raasay plans.

Defence Minister Quentin Davis has informed local Liberal Democrat MP Charles Kennedy of the move.

Mr Kennedy's office said the minister has promised to visit the test site if new proposals on how it is run are submitted.

Fresh plans are expected later this year.

South Uist may see civilian drone testing.

One of the first civilian projects that may bring new work to the range is that of civilian drones.

These saw an increase in interest during the past year (2010) as the price fell for autonomous, or semi-autonomous types that did not require a skilled operator, and were both lighter and more robust than earlier radio-controlled helicopter variants. Paired with lightweight cameras and data-links, these became cheap alternatives for aerial surveillance tasks. Their development even passed existing legislation, leading to the CAA (Civil Aviation Authority) grounding those used by the authorities due to their use in proximity to humans, and danger of loss of control. Additional regulations were introduced to limit the proximity of autonomous drones - those which can fly themselves - to people in public places.

This developing industry requires space where such drones - usually quadrotors (quadrotor helicopter or quadrocopter) - can be safely tested. [12]

Range given five year future by MoD

In July 2011, The MoD announced that the Hebrides Range would have a secure future for at least the next five years, and that QinetiQ (operating the facility on behalf of the MoD) would be looking at cost effective upgrades, for the range and its related sites. Local council Comhairle nan Eilean Siar also leads the Hebrides Range Task Force, which both organisations have agreed to work with on the range's future, which now provides around 200 jobs. [13]

In August 2011, Defence minister Peter Luff made a two-day visit to the range.Defence minister Peter Luff is making a two-day visit to the UK's largest missile range.[14]

This commitment means that facilities and equipment on the range which have become old or difficult to maintain can be addressed, and obsolete item replaced and upgraded as required to keep the range operational.

Photographs

From north to south

North end range building, NF753452, 2007
North end range building
© Greg Morss
Range bunkers, NF749440, 2007
Range bunkers
© Greg Morss
Launch Area 1, NF751441, 2007
Launch Area 1
© Greg Morss
Range bunkers, NF749439, 2008
Range bunkers
© Greg Morss
Substation on loop road, NF752433, 2008
Substation on loop road
© Greg Morss
Launch apparatus, NF751434, 2007
Launch apparatus
© Gregg Morss
Range building, NF751433, 2008
Range building
© Greg Morss
Explosives store, NF760436, 2007
Explosives store
© Greg Morss
Range head buildings and tower, NF757429, 2007
Range head buildings and tower
© Greg Morss
Launch area building and range radar, NF757412, 2007
Launch area building and range radar
© Greg Morss
Range bunkers, NF754412, 2007
Range bunkers
© Greg Morss


References

1 Hansard, March 13, 1957. Rocket Range, South Uist (Representations)

2 Civil Defence (Hansard, 19 March 1957)

3 Guided Missiles Site, South Uist (Hansard, 3 April 1957)

4 South Uist Rocket Range (Hansard, 13 November 1957)

5 Guided Weapons Range, The Hebrides (Hansard, 20 November 1957)

6 ROCKET RANGE, THE HEBRIDES (Hansard, 4 December 1957)

7 Rocket Range, The Hebrides (Hansard, 4 December 1957)

8 South Uist Rocket Range (Hansard, 9 December 1957)

9 South Uist

10 Laima story

11 MoD to close key missile testing site - Defence Management

12 BBC News - Hebrides Range 'ideal' for testing civilian drones Retrieved February 09, 2011.

13 BBC News - Future of UK's largest missile range secure says MoD Retrieved August 24, 2011.

14 BBC News - Defence minister Peter Luff visits Hebrides Range Retrieved August 24, 2011.

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