Infrastructure work under way to prepare for Protector drones arrival at RAF Waddington – The Lincolnite

Part of a £94 million investment in infrastructure
Ahead of the arrival of the Protector Remotely Piloted Aircraft System, infrastructure works have begun at RAF Waddington thanks to more than £90 million of investment.
Plans have been in place for a prolonged period of time for Protector, the world’s first certified Remotely Piloted Aircraft System (RPAS), to be based at RAF Waddington from 2024 to conduct defence training and drone flights.
The UK has ordered 16 of the Protector RG MK1 drones from American company General Atomics, and they will all be based in Lincolnshire when they are ready to enter service.
The Protector will replace the current Reaper drones and will be capable of being flown anywhere in the world while being operated by personnel at RAF Waddington in Lincolnshire, where it will enter service by mid-2024. | Photo: MoD
The initial work on the site will focus on the upgrade and expansion of the communications infrastructure at the station, which includes enabling the site to be ready for the new Protector Force.
The upgrades will include a high-capacity fibre optic communications ring to benefit all squadrons, as well as the Air Space Warfare Centre and the incoming Red Arrows, which will make RAF Waddington their home at the end of 2022.
The SkyGuardian drone ready to operate from RAF Waddington, ahead of the permanent arrival of 16 Protector drones in 2024. | Photo: GA-ASI
In September 2021, the Secretary of State for Defence, Ben Wallace MP, announced RAF Waddington would benefit from a £94 million investment for infrastructure improvements, to support the capability of the Protector drone, which enters service in 2024.
The station has been preparing for the arrival of the Protector RPAS for a while now, having previously hosted a SkyGuardian drone, very similar to the Protector, to demonstrate the capability to perform operations from the base.
Station Commander at RAF Waddington, Mark Lorriman-Hughes. | Photo: Crown Copyright
RAF Waddington’s Station Commander, Group Captain Mark Lorriman-Hughes, said: “The enhanced communications infrastructure is an important stage in the preparations for Protector and the Next Generation Air Force.
“This is the start of a significant investment programme that will see the Ministry of Defence upgrade many of the key facilities here at RAF Waddington.
“Enhancing our ability to capture, analyse and distribute data, paving the way for us to safely operate the Protector Air System, further fortifying RAF Waddington’s place as the UK’s ISTAR (Intelligence, Surveillance, Target Acquisition and Reconnaissance) hub.”
The plans haven’t seen plain sailing, though, with protestors gathering outside RAF Waddington in August last year to say no to experimental US drone flights over UK airbases.
Protestors gathered outside RAF Waddington to oppose the planned US drone flights.
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The road is expected to be closed for some time
| Photo: The Lincolnite
Police and Fire and Rescue crews were called to a serious crash which closed Belton Road, Great Gonerby overnight.
The collision, which happened just before midnight on Friday, February 4, involved two vehicles.
Lincolnshire Fire and Rescue said crews used hydraulic cutting equipment to free one casualty. The injured person’s care was transferred to the East Midlands Ambulance service.
There has been no update on casualties at the time of writing.
The road remained closed into the morning.
Lincolnshire Police posted on social media in the early hours of Saturday, February 4 to inform drivers the road was expected to be closed for several hours. People should avoid the area where possible.
The Lincolnite has contacted police and this story will be updated as soon as more information is available. 
Immunosuppressed people can now book COVID booster jabs online
| Photo: Steve Smailes for The Lincolnite
Another series of pop-up coronavirus vaccination sessions will take place in Lincolnshire over the weekend and next week.
The vaccination team at the Lincolnshire Showground will also offer a further round of bespoke walk-in sessions for needle-phobic people, as well as for pregnant women, between 9am and 1pm on Wednesday, February 9.
The latest series of pop-up sessions will enable anyone eligible to get vaccinated as a walk-in, whether that be for a booster jab or for first and second doses.
The following pop-up vaccinations sessions are taking place in Lincolnshire:
Rebecca Neno is the director of COVID and influenza vaccination programmes for NHS Lincolnshire CCG. | Photo: Steve Smailes for The Lincolnite
And immunosuppressed people aged 16 and over in Lincolnshire are being urged to take advantage of now being able to book their COVID booster online using the National Booking System.
Rebecca Neno, director of COVID and influenza vaccination programmes at NHS Lincolnshire CCG, said: “This is great news for anyone who is immunosuppressed, since the ability to book boosters online makes it even more convenient for anyone aged 16 or over to be able to access what is a very important vaccination.
“Extending the online booking to include booster jabs is about providing another option for people who’d rather have the reassurance of being able to book an appointment.
“However, it is still possible for anyone who is immunosuppressed and 16 or over to choose to have their booster on a walk-in basis at either of our Mass Vaccination Centres at PRSA, Boston, or the Lincolnshire Showground, providing they bring a letter from their hospital consultant.”
On Wednesday, February 2, Lincolnshire Showground’s Mass Vaccination Centre marked a year to the day that it first opened for jabs against coronavirus.
Statue still on the cards
The £300k statue bought with public donations awaits in storage for a £100k unveiling event yet to be confirmed.
Today marks three years since South Kesteven District Council approved plans to erect a £300,000 Margaret Thatcher statue in the centre of town.
The decision on February 5, 2019, took place amidst a storm of controversy, with many deriding the proposals to honour the Iron Lady, and there were fears political vandals and other security risks would damage the structure. The statue had originally been planned to be erected in Parliament Square but was eventually rejected due to similar concerns.
Since then, despite the building of a plinth to start the development (thereby eliminating hopes it might hit the three-year time limit to begin) there has been little movement.
The council first took a year-and-a-half to agree to put aside £100,000 for an unveiling event in case fundraising did not succeed, three months later it – unlike Mrs Thatcher – U-turned following backlash with leaders, leaving it to private donors to pick up the tab.
At this time, the COVID-19 pandemic had just begun and it seemed plans were again put on hold as government restrictions took effect, leaving the unveiling dates postponed and councils focussing on promoting their community’s health and safety, and supporting businesses and residents through a series of lockdowns.
But SKDC Council Leader Councillor Kelham Cooke is “extremely confident” things will progress soon.
Speaking to Local Democracy Reporter (LDR) Daniel Jaines, Councillor Cooke said: “The statue will be being installed this year.
“I’m not going to give a date yet, there will be one announced shortly and there will be a date for the installation and then a date for the official unveiling.
“It was disappointing we had to postpone it due to COVID but we remain extremely confident that it will be in place later this year.”
South Kesteven District Council leader Councillor Kelham Cooke.
He acknowledged there had been “fairly mixed responses” but said that had “not changed the plans”.
“Statues are there to create opinion and create conversation, so some people will talk about the merits of Thatcherism and some will talk about other views in terms of what Margaret Thatcher achieved.
“Ultimately, she was the first female Prime Minister and she was born and brought up in Grantham so we need to recognise her locally for her achievements.”
During the BLM riots in 2020 a statue to Bristol merchant Edward Colston – who donated much of his wealth to good causes, but made that wealth through the slave trade – was pulled down by protestors and thrown in the river.
The move sparked a conversation over whether there should be statues to honour people, who should be paid tribute to, and how that should happen, alongside the value for money of such commemorations if they were going to be damaged.
Councillor Cooke told the LDR service: “As a country we need to acknowledge our past, learn from it and move forwards.
“The destruction of statues, actually, for me we need to recognise our history and learn from it.”
Sculptor Douglas Jennings applying the finishing touches to the stature when it was created.
Thatcher’s own history was also a spotted one. Born and raised Margaret Roberts in Grantham, she attended Kesteven and Grantham Girls’ School, before gaining a scholarship to study at Oxford University.
Her father Alfred, a grocer, was mayor of the town from 1945 to 1946. She was Prime Minister from 1979 to 1990 and entered the House of Lords in 1992.
She died on April 8, 2013, following a stroke.
A 10 foot plinth on which the bronze statue will stand to deter vandals has stood empty. | Photo: Daniel Jaines for The Lincolnite
To her supporters, Thatcher was a patriot who showed strong leadership in the Falklands War, reduced the influence of trade unions, scaled back public benefits and reduced regulation.
However, her detractors are keen to point out thousands suffered under many of her policies including the closure of the coal mining trade, the social unrest over the poll tax, her hesitance to act over the AIDS crisis and the introduction of Section 28 – the series of laws that prohibited “promotion” of homosexuality.
Staunch Grantham Conservative Councillor Ray Wootten praised the PM for holding her three consecutive terms from 1979 to 1990.
“Her landslide victory in 1983, owed partly to her leadership in the Falklands War, resulted in her being dubbed the ‘Iron Lady” by the Soviet Union for the way she dealt with difficult policies,” he said.
Councillor Ray Wootten.
“Even today Margaret Thatcher remains a controversial figure following her political victory against Arthur Scargill in the 1984 Miners’ Strike.
“History views her years in office favourably which is why in her hometown of Grantham she should be recognised with a statue.”
Liberal Democrat Councillor Amanda Wheeler emphasised the rejection by Westminster Council to erect the statue in London on grounds it would attract civil disobedience and vandalism.
Liberal Democrat Councillor Amanda Wheeler.
Other effigies to the Iron Lady have suffered at the hands of her opponents. In 2002 a statue in London Guildhall was decapitated, while in 1980 a waxwork on display in Dublin was stabbed and slashed across the face.
“That SKDC plan to place the statue in the heart of Grantham is an an insult to everyone who suffered under Thatcher’s policies; it is also certain to cost the council a considerable sum in security,” said Councillor Wheeler.
“If Grantham has to have this divisive statue, it should be safely hidden away, under lock and key, in the Grantham Museum. “
Labour Councillor Charmaine Morgan.
Labour Councillor Charmaine Morgan has been a constant outspoken critic of the plans. She said the unveiling would be a “high profile costly affair”.
Despite the funding being cancelled, she said: “The event will no doubt be opportunistically used as a rallying cry for their supporters as we approach local elections.
“We know how much Conservatives like to party! It has already cost tax payers money including new CCTV being installed and trees cut for security purposes.
“Whilst some await it, others of us will be delighted if it is delayed indefinitely. There are other far more pressing concerns for local people now.”
Councillor Ashley Baxter. | Photo: South Kesteven District Council
Independent Ashley Baxter felt it was “barely credible” that the Conservatives “think this is an appropriate time to waste time, effort and public money on this divisive project”.
“In light of the recent statue controversies around the country, and around the world, it is foolhardy and irresponsible to proceed with unveiling a statue of Margaret Thatcher at this time,” he said.
He pointed to English Heritage rules that blue plaque commemorations have to take place no less than 20 years following a person’s death, whereas the Thatcher statue was less than 10 years.
“It is undignified, bordering on dangerous, and I fear the politicians jumping on this particular bandwagon do not have sufficient regard for the potential public order implications,” said Councillor Baxter.
“A project to install a water refill station at Stamford was criticised by local Conservatives as a ‘vanity project’. Surely, the statue of Margaret Thatcher is the biggest Conservative vanity project of them all!?”
| Photo: Getty Images
The statue to be erected was created by sculpture Douglas Jennings and was paid for by public donations.
It remains in storage at a secret location.
When approved, councillors agreed the bronze structure would have to be placed on a 3.2 metre high plinth, making it more than 6.4 metres tall in total.
Previous breakdowns of costs of the unveiling event set out an estimated spend of £50,200 on an external events company and £24,250 on public safety.
Since it was approved there have been protest events planned including egging the statue, while other artists have taken the opportunity to utilise the empty plinth for their own projects.