As the first British Navy facility built east of the Suez Canal in over 50 years, the UK Navy Support Facility (UKNSF) in Bahrain supports Royal Navy operations in the Gulf, Red Sea, and Indian Ocean. From inception to handover, our teams worked with the Bahraini Defence Force (BDF) to provide project management services to Joint Force Command (JFC) and oversee delivery in a culturally different working environment.
A better living standard for the British Military
Until the UKNSF commission, the British military had limited facilities, comprising the UK Maritime Component Command, the neighbouring engineering support facility for UK vessels, and living accommodation procured via the local housing market.
The UKNSF (gifted to the UK by the King of Bahrain) gives the military its own dedicated facilities to increase its presence in the Middle East. Personal living facilities offer the added benefits of easing security concerns, improving morale, and reducing operational costs.
The new technical accommodation comprises three large quayside hangars to allow the engineering support facility immediate refuelling and maintenance access to the ships. It also serves as an administration hub with a dedicated police and medical section, and a central focus for visitors to the UKMCC.
The living quarters can accommodate 550 people, including 200 full-time staff, with the remainder available for visiting ships, personnel on training exercises, and allied forces.
Game-changing living conditions
To improve operational capability and Royal Navy staff retention, all rooms are air-conditioned and considerably more open than the cramped, uncomfortable, and stiflingly hot conditions typically found on ships.
Further improvements are felt in the welfare facilities include dining, relaxing, social areas and a studio for British Forces Broadcasting Services. The direct impact can be seen by occupants who have responded positively to the presence of internet, TV and sport, two gyms, the welfare bar and coffee shop, a cinema, and games rooms.
Unlike standard design and build projects, we were not responsible for delivering the project to time and cost, but rather, ensuring compliance with UK and MoD standards and regulations whilst reflecting local business practices.
This required an entirely different approach to stakeholder engagement, problem solving, conflict management and project control. Addressing discrepancies could only be achieved through total transparency and consistency in our communications and advice to manage expectations.
Our approach to risk mitigation proved key to delivery and information management; we developed our own change control techniques, including a tracker of all the changes raised for reporting back to JFC and keeping a robust audit trail.
Through our construction expertise, we identified early issues on the programmes’ critical path, advising the client team accordingly and working with our hosts to mitigate and plan positively for delays caused by inclement weather.
Some UK compliance measures were easy to resolve, e.g. installation of UK Building Regulations handrails, while others proved complex, e.g. fire stopping requirements. Our positive working relationship with the BDF meant we made judgments as to when we could reasonably ask them to make allowances and where it would be unreasonable.
While we had to account for anticipated difficulties, such as differences in regulations and standards, we also overcame unforeseen supply chain challenges. To meet UK standards, the specification of material needed to be exact. In some cases, material could only be procured from the UK, which affected delivery times and required the reprogramming of planned works.
To overcome the anticipated challenges, we adopted an informal mentoring approach to explaining the importance of particular standards and regulations. We observed works so we could test and adjust accordingly, minimising abortive works.
Unforeseen challenges were overcome through continual engagement with BDF, contractors, and JFC. Through programme monitoring and UK budget oversight, we identified needs and mobilised requirements. While tracking issues and needs, we reminded parties of requirements to either source material or arrange funding, minimising programme risk and managing expectations for all parties.
Results and Benefits
That the UKNSF now underpins the military capability in this part of the Middle East is a testament to WYG and JFC’s abilities, skills, and knowledge. A hugely beneficial outcome is a core team of people now able to apply best practice to other projects, having absorbed a deeper understanding of working overseas and interfacing with different practices and cultures.