The UK's Defence Electronics and Components Agency (DECA) will be overhauling European nations' F-35 fighter jet avionics at a collection of sheds in a busy enclave of north Wales.
DECA won the £2bn "global repair hub" contract, which will last until 2040. The agency will be partnered with BAE Systems and US company Northrop Grumman, as well as various other F-35 original equipment manufacturers.
The work will be based at DECA's facility at the mothballed MoD Sealand site, on Deeside in north Wales, and will be fully operational for the F-35 by 2018.
European nations buying the F-35 as well as the UK include Denmark, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, and – for a wider definition of "European" – Turkey. The idea of the global hub at Sealand is that avionics from all these nations' F-35s will be sent there for overhaul as required.
As far as the contract goes, this is a win for the UK plc, making use of specialist skills and pumping some desperately needed cash into the regions. Whether Sealand has the space to expand to meet the increased demand is uncertain, as most of the old RAF station has been sold to developers.
Sealand has a long history of avionics component overhaul, having hosted the RAF's 30 Maintenance Unit for many years. DECA was kept in public ownership after the publicly owned Defence Support Group, which carried out most military second and third-line repair work, was privatised to defence contractor Babcock last year.
Although publicly owned, DECA is operated as a commercial entity by the MoD. Its accounts for financial year 2015/16 (PDF) show revenues of £25m, of which just £5.4m comes from non-MoD sources, including £330k from renting out buildings on its site. It posted a profit from its trading activities of £2.4m. DECA does not break out its business unit data.
The Sealand base itself was last used by the RAF as an active airfield in the early 2000s. It was formally closed as an RAF station in 2006, although the MoD still owns small parts of the site, on which DECA is based.
Large chunks of it were due to be sold off for the building of 5,000 new homes, a project which has appeared and disappeared from local papers over the last six or seven years. ®
Sealand also shares its name with a World War Two-era Maunsell sea fort off the coast of Essex. It is now a fully functioning micro-state, having unilaterally separated from the UK in the 1960s under the swashbuckling Paddy Roy Bates who declared himself Prince of Sealand. The government decided it was too much hassle to reclaim Sealand given that, at the time, his main activity there was broadcasting pirate radio.