ATHENA My Perspective

Some 17 of my 31 years’ service have been spent at RAF Waddington during which time I’ve completed a wide variety of flying and flying related tours here.

Indeed, when I arrived for my first tour here in 1991 there was even still hair on my head and a Vulcan flying under RAF ownership! I lived in Single Living In accommodation on base before getting married, after which Lincolnshire become the family home for my wife and 2 children, joined more recently by a recalcitrant black Labrador. In short, I view Lincolnshire as my professional and family home. I was therefore delighted to return to ‘Waddo’ in September 2017 as Group Captain Future Plans in ISTAR FHQ where, as well as P-8, Protector, and Manned Aerial Surveillance, I’m responsible for Programme ATHENA.

Many of you will have heard of Programme ATHENA. Equally, I’m aware that there is a degree of ‘transformation programme fatigue’ across the Service due to the sheer number of them. So what is ATHENA, what makes it different and why should you care? In short, ATHENA is seeking to significantly improve the quality of life and operational efficiency of the ISTAR Force.

That means that, while ATHENA is inevitably Waddington centric, it extends far beyond LN5 9NB to all our ISTAR outstations: RAF Digby, RAF Lossiemouth, RAF Marham RAF Wyton and even Creech AFB in Nevada. In doing so, ATHENA is seeking ways of delivering innovative solutions to our significant operational and infrastructure challenges out to 2025. In many respects, it is the latter which I am particularly keen to focus on as I’m acutely aware that the Station has never had the ‘seismic’ moment enjoyed by many other stns where major programmes attracted significant investment; RAF Marham with Lightning as well as RAF Brize Norton with Voyager and A400M are cases in point.

Despite RAF Waddington having a far greater breadth of aircraft and operational effects, many originated as Afghanistan Urgent Operational Requirements (eg Shadow and Reaper) or were identified for early retirement in SDSRs (eg Sentinel). While the RAF has successfully retained these critical ISTAR assets, Waddington has still not enjoyed the investment seen at other stations.

Having toured several blocks with the Station Commander, OC BSW and Station Warrant Officer recently, I’m therefore acutely aware of the dreadful state of many, an issue which was recognised by a recent Armed Forces Pay Review Body visit.

Unfortunately, Edward Snowden is more likely to gain a US security clearance than I am of attracting significant investment via traditional means; this brings me back to the innovative solutions that ATHENA is working towards.

For instance, greater use of simulator training by our aircraft would potentially quickly provide sufficient funding to reinvest in Stn utilities, much of which are now more than 70 years old and the cause of our regular power outages and lack of hot water.
Similarly, our operational agility also needs to improve as the World becomes ever more complex. So what is being done?

ATHENA has recently been established by AOC 1 Gp as a mandated Programme and a Programme Management Office (PMO) is being established involving approximately 10 service personnel.

The PMO formed on 1 February 2018 and is slowly assuming responsibility from contractors working for Qi Results. In the next few months, I hope that you will notice the pace of ATHENA activity pick up
with added focus and innovation. For instance, we are already engaged with the University of Lincoln to examine joint funding of new accommodation.

Similarly, contractors have just been employed to provide specialised language training to 51 Squadron more readily than traditional means.

Progress will not be easy but innovative approaches are essential if we are to allow our infrastructure to match the cutting edge ISTAR Force assets.

Rob O’Dell

Group Captain Future Plans