It is hard to believe that the central communications hub for the entire British Army sits unassumingly on the outskirts of the quiet Wiltshire market town of Corsham.
Yet while we have been watching events in Libya unfold on our TV screens over the last few months, it was a very different kind of screen watching on view at the new MoD Corsham base.
The centre, at Westwells Road, in Neston, is home to GOSCC – the Global Operations Security Control Centre – a top secret centre which houses up to 600 specialists working behind the scenes to make huge military operations such as those in Libya, Afghanistan and Iraq a reality.
It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to describe GOSCC as something akin to the control rooms seen see in James Bond or disaster movies.
The ‘wow’ factor hits you as you enter the huge circular room, which has rows of operations desks facing a series of giant screens displaying highly sensitive data on the whereabouts of satellites and personnel on the ground. Some of the screens were blacked out for our arrival.
There is an eerie stillness about the room, and Royal Navy Captain Chris Parsons, who heads the operation, said: “It is always calm in here. You waste as much energy panicking as you do when you are thinking so we do the latter.
“At pinnacle moments in operations you might see some worried faces walking across the room, but generally we stay very calm.”
GOSCC is a 24/7, 365 days per year operation and its works affects the daily lives of 300,000 personnel scattered across the world. As well as military, RAF and Navy personnel, specialists from companies such as BT, Atlas and Paradigm monitor telephone lines and satellite activity in space, and a special crack team work on cyber threats.
But this hive of activity is just part of the picture. At its peak later this year, MoD Corsham will employ 2,200 people. Together they manage everything from ensuring the phone lines work to bringing an internet connection to some of the most remotest parts of Afghanistan, and helping to save the lives of our troops overseas.
Nigel Spreadbury-Clews, head of establishment, said: “Detecting roadside bombs is aided by the taking of photographs from an aircraft which are sent to a team of specialists with the help of communications here in Corsham.
“Tanks on the ground are incredible pieces of equipment but the person operating them needs to know what to aim at and that is something that we play a crucial role in.”
Capt Parsons added: “This centre really is unique across the world. You will not find anything else like this in Europe or the US.”