Technology

Heart of Britain's Cold War defences gets new life as launch pad for cutting-edge tech

New owner William Sachiti, an expert in robotics, is also behind the trial deployment of autonomous vehicles on an airbase.

RAF Neatishead – once the heart of Britain's Cold War defences and part of a network of air defence stations – has a new tech entrepreneur owner.

For decades, the RAF base, one of a chain of radar stations along the east coast, kept a watch on the Warsaw Pact, before closing in 2006 with an uncertain future.

Zimbabwean-born tech entrepreneur William Sachiti, an expert in robotics and artificial intelligence (AI), has purchased the property with plans to make it an incubator for new technology.

Mr Sachiti and his team of engineers have spent five years developing the 'Kar-go', a self-driving electric vehicle that could deliver packages to your door as well as offer military applications. 

As part of Project Astra, the RAF has been evaluating Kar-go, testing it around RAF Brize Norton as the Ministry of Defence continues to explore ways of using self-driving vehicles to make deliveries around a military base and carry people from one location to another.

For the sizeable sum Mr Sachiti paid for Neatishead, he gets a lot in return: dozens of buildings, an officers' Mess (that he intends to turn into his home), a personal squash court, and a vast nuclear bunker that stretches for four acres beneath the base.

Hidden behind an innocuous door, it was where military personnel ran part of Britain's radar defences, looking out to sea for incoming Soviet aircraft.

The bunker was decommissioned in 2004, with operations transferred to RAF Boulmer in Northumberland, but the power and air conditioning systems were kept running meaning the whole place was preserved just as the military left it nearly two decades ago.

Neatishead's bunker and radar equipment are listed as structures of historic national interest. 

The tech entrepreneur plans to convert several of the other buildings to offices, laboratories and production facilities bringing in some of the best brains in robotics and AI to the Norfolk property.

Neatishead's military role has not completely disappeared with the RAF next door still operating a much smaller Remote Radar Head as part of the UK's Air Surveillance and Control System.

The base's history is also being preserved nearby in the RAF Air Defence Radar Museum which contains the country's only original Cold War operations room.

Watch: Forces News visited RAF Neatishead when it went up for sale in 2015.