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A Town for Training

15 October 2010

The training army, navy and air force personnel for future conflicts is changing from separate programmes to co-ordinated tri-service training delivered on one site with, as Jane Fenwick found, FM involvement from the star

St Athan DTC

THE AGE OF ’DIGITAL BATTLESPACE’ is already here. Remotely controlled unmanned ‘drones’ and tracked robot devices have proved their worth in recent theatres of war, and they clearly mark the way forward for the future of military technology. In the context of this rapidly changing environment, UK Armed Forces personnel must continue to be trained to maintain and support today’s technology, and to prepare for the developments of tomorrow.
In 2001, the MoD published a report entitled Modernising Defence Training which highlighted the need for investment in Defence training and modern facilities, and integration across all three services. These recommendations were incorporated into theDefence Training Review Rationalisation Programme – the largest and most complex PPP undertaken by the MoD.
Sodexo UK and Ireland is playing a leading role as a 50:50 partner with QinetiQ in the Metrix consortium which is responsible for training delivery and transformation as well asthe design, build programme and management of the tri-service Defence Technical College (DTC) to be built on a former RAF base at St Athan in South Wales.
This 30 year PPP deal to build the largest vocational training operation in the UK will consolidate the technical training for all three armed forces previously delivered  separately at nine principal locations across the country. The DTC will be a purpose built, high tech, modern facility that will become a main driving force for the MoD’s revised training strategy. It is designed to be a technical further education experience that will have significant impact on military operational effectiveness and capability.
This £14bn project is already taking shape although the overall contract signature will not be concluded for a few months. Sodexo, which took the place in the Metrix consortium of Land Securities Trillium when it pulled out in 2009, transferred key LST personnel to its team including the project’s Design and Pre-Construction Director, Alastair Page. This enabled a seamless continuation of the project through its critical masterplanning stage.
The DTC at St Athan is on the scale of a small town on a 280 hectares landscaped site comprising about 90 buildings, 12 km of roads, an energy centre capable of generating all the site’s heat requirements and 40 percent of its peak demand for electricity from gas and biomass fuel, accommodation blocks for 3,000 services personnel, offices, workshops and classrooms, medical and dental facilities, places of worship, a museum and sports pitches, gymnasia, a running track and a swimming pool among a range of sports facilities.
The masterplanning of the new site is nearing completion and the first phase of building work to prepare the site for the main build phase begins this autumn. The Sodexo team is already on site managing existing facilities and services as well as masterminding the four year building phase through to the DTC’s planned opening in 2015.
St Athan will have a standard population of about 5,500 of which around 3,500 will be resident on the site, and a further 500 resident in service accommodation around the site or in the local community. There will be about 1,000 training staff, another 1,000 military support staff and 900 Sodexo FM staff delivering all hard and soft services.
Key to the selection of St Athan is its vast Red Dragon hanger, built four years ago originally to maintain, repair and overhaul up to 48 Tornado jets. But a change of strategy meant that it was never used for this purpose. Now it has a new lease of life. The hanger will become a practical ‘classroom’ where a variety of equipment, military vehicles and aircraft can be sited adjacent to training rooms. The students will have both theoretical training and practical hands on experience within easy reach.
The project represents a significant change from the current training environment which is predominately delivered through a mix of classroom and hands-on training.
The St Athan site will be built to accommodate the latest training techniques, while being flexible enough to deal with the changing military training requirements over the next 30 years.
The Metrix training partner, Raytheon, will provide training transformation solutions and much of the DTC’s training and management systems design. This £31m Early Training Transformation (ETT) contract is already signed and the harmonisation of the training across all three services is in progress. QinetiQ is key partner for the provision of state-of-the-art simulation and other technologies that will transform the delivery of military education.
Although the DTC will be the principal centre for UK Armed Forces technical training, Metrix is also planning to manage a programme of distance learning at different sites around the country. The aim is to help facilitate ongoing education more efficiently without the need for students to move off base.
These changes will deliver the best military training in the world for the UK’s service personnel as well as equipping them with transferable skills for when they leave the services. Nord Anglia, City & Guilds, EDS and the Open University are all working with Metrix to provide training support and accreditation.
By about 2020, St Athan will be the sole training facility for all tri-service technical training. Planning permission was already granted in 2009 for the development at St Athan which is set in a parkland environment. Central to the DTC’s development will be a commitment to military ethos. The DTC will be a tri-service facility but the ethos of each will be retained by subtle devices such as three separate entrances into the DTC, and messes for different ranks.
The accommodation is centred on the Mall in a ‘village’ of single living accommodation (SLA) for 3,250 people - with about 850 in four person rooms, the rest in single rooms. The messes will have another 1,000 rooms for senior NCOs and officers.
At the end of the Mall, the DTC contains the training facilities, classroom and lecture rooms - some will double as leisure cinemas out of hours. The training spaces are ‘flexible’ with partition walls that can be changed without impacting the building function and structure making it adaptable over time.
The ‘students’ will range from young recruits in the early stages of their technical training through to experienced Service personnel attending advanced courses taking several months.
Students can expect to spend up to two years living and training at St Athan while instructors and trainers will stay some three or more years. The military students will all study together in a new School of Principles for common elements in the three key streams – aeronautical engineering, communications and information systems and electro mechanical engineering – but separately for individual technical skills training.
Extensive sports facilities will be provided to ensure the students maintain fitness and military skills while at St Athan. Some of these will be shared with the local community and schools, and will be located outside the secure base perimeter.
With approximately 1,800 construction jobs, on going local employment and a significant boost to the local economy, the Local Authority - the Vale of Glamorgan - and the Welsh
Assembly Government have been supportive of the project throughout. Part of the overall plan is to develop about a quarter of the site on the opposite side of the runway to the DTC and outside its perimeter, as an aeronautical business park, building on existing facilities and activities.
For Sodexo, the ongoing management of the St Athan site will be challenging as the project develops over the next four years. A logistic centre and a separate access to the site for FM related traffic has been designed in. Military personnel and visitors will access the site through the main entrance.
Sodexo will be at the forefront of the evolution of the site in the next three decades.
How defence needs – and budgets – and political strategies will change in this period is unknown. These facilities have been designed to accommodate the changes that can be
foreseen – and probably also those that can’t.


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