Unit History: Air Control Centre
No.1 Air Control Centre (1ACC) began life as No.9 Signals Unit (9SU), which formed at RAF Rattlesden, Suffolk on 1 Nov 1964, comprising a US-manufactured AN/TPS-34 air transportable 3-D radar and associated equipment, to function as an Air Control Centre for redeployment overseas, primarily to the Near East Air Force. The establishment provided for both fighter and SAM controllers.
The title of the Unit was officially changed from ‘No.9 Signals Unit’ to ‘No.1 Air Control Centre’ with effect 9 Sep 1965. September also saw the Unit’s first overseas deployment, to RAF El Adem, Libya on Ex DAZZLE, a biannual inter-service exercise sponsored by the Chiefs of Staff Committee West of Suez. On 1 November 1965, Full Operational Capability (FOC) for 1ACC was declared which, coupled with the lessons of recent exercises and the recuperation afforded by the Unit standdown, was about to be put to the test in Zambia during a period of heightened tension with Rhodesia.
On 2 Dec 1965, the 1ACC advance party flew to Nairobi, Kenya and then on to Lusaka, Zambia on 3 Dec, when the Unit equipment also started to arrive. It was then moved to a suitable site on Lusaka airfield, with surveillance operations commencing on 8 Dec. On 9 Dec, 4 Javelins from 29Sqn arrived at Lusaka from Kenya, with 2 aircraft immediately put on state, one at 10 minutes and the other at 30 minutes. Following Rhodesia’s Unilateral Declaration of Independence (UDI), on 20 Dec oil sanctions were imposed, and as a retaliatory measure Rhodesia cut off the normal flow of oil to Zambia. While few intercepts occurred, QRA activity kept the pace of operations busy until the withdrawal of the RAF force in early Sep 1966.
In early 1967, 1ACC relocated to RAF Wattisham, Suffolk. In the following years, in addition to exercises both in the UK and abroad, numerous radar deployments utilising UPS-1 and Marconi S259 2D radars as gap-fillers were conducted to permanent ADGE radar sites along the east coast and to Malta and Cyprus, though a full unit operational deployment did not occur. This was partly due to the logistic burden which the newly-introduced GL161/TINSMITH Automatic Data Processing data handling, tracking and intercept calculation and display equipment brought, making deployment by air virtually prohibitive. As an example for Ex CRAYON at Paramali, Cyprus in Apr 1968, 23 C130 Hercules aircraft were required to airlift the Unit’s equipment and 166 personnel. On 6 May 1977, 1ACC personnel deployed on Op DOCKER, forming No.1 Mobile Radar Unit (Germany) (1MRU(G)) along with British Army personnel, utilising AD11 and AD12 radars. Operations ceased on 15 Oct, and the final detachment of 1ACC personnel returned to Wattisham on 31 Oct 1977.
In Jun 1979, 1ACC took up residence at the Chemical Defence Establishment Nancekuke, Cornwall; reactivated as RAF Portreath on 1 Oct 1980. At the same time as the Unit arrived, a Marconi Type 88/89 Mk2 radar convoy was received, and integrated into the GL161 COMPACT system. The Unit’s remaining deployable S259 radar was despatched to Ascension Island in May 1982 to provide Air Defence early warning during the Falklands War, and on 24 Sep 1882 the title of No.1 Air Control Centre was changed to RAF Portreath.
On 1 Apr 1995, 1ACC was reformed at RAF Boulmer in Northumberland to fill the role of the Royal Air Force’s deployable radar and tactical Air C2 element. Originally equipped with a Type 99 (AN/TPS-43) radar ‘liberated’ from the Argentinians in 1982, and Boulmer’s Type 93, the unit quickly reacquainted itself with the disciplines required for deployed air operations. In 1997, 1 ACC became the first customer for the Type 101 radar, which marked a quantum leap in performance over the Type 99: the unit now operates two such systems. During Dec 2002, 1ACC received the Thales-produced Tactical Air Control Centre (TACC), a system that has greatly enhanced 1ACC’s deployment and Battle Management capabilities. No.1 ACC now provides a tactical Air C2 capability that enables sustained 24-hour weapons control and air surveillance across a given operating area utilising radar and datalink information. Having previously deployed to Cyprus, from May 2003 to Jan 2004, 1ACC was forward-deployed to the US-operated air base at Tallil in Iraq in support of Op TELIC, before rebasing to RAF Kirton-in-Lindsey in Lincolnshire in early 2005. Following a 12 month period declared to the NATO Response Force, elements of 1ACC were deployed to Camp Bastion in Helmand Province, Afghanistan in late 2006, where they currently provide air surveillance and control capabilities across the south of the country in support of Op HERRICK and NATO’s International Security Assistance Force (ISAF).