The government has picked the Lancashire village of Samlesbury as the base for its new £5bn intelligence and defence unit dedicated to “offensive cyber” operations against the UK’s adversaries.
The National Cyber Force is understood to have begun operating in spring last year and its creation was formally avowed by prime minister Boris Johnson in November. The unit is jointly run by the Ministry of Defence and GCHQ and brings together staff from the two organisations, as well as from the Secret Intelligence Service (MI6) and the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory, an arm’s-length body of the MoD dedicated to the research and development of new technologies.
About £5bn will be invested in supporting the work NCF over the coming decade, including the construction of its headquarters. The purpose-built campus is expected to be sited at the Samlesbury home of the Lancashire Enterprise Zone facility, which also houses a manufacturing plant for defence and aerospace giant BAE Systems.
The remit of the cyber unit will be to lead the country’s “offensive” cyber operations. According to GCHQ, this may include activities such as “targeting hostile weapons systems” of other nations, as well as “interfering with mobile phones to prevent terrorists from being able to communicate with their contacts”.
Foreign secretary Liz Truss said: “The National Cyber Force will help confront aggressive behaviour from malign actors, and demonstrate that Britain is investing in next-generation defence capability to protect our people and help our friends counter cyber threats. It sends a powerful message to our allies and adversaries alike.”
The government claimed that it picked Samlesbury as the home of the NCF as it saw the north-west of England as “the cyber centre of the UK”. The move, which is expected to be referenced by the PM in his speech at this week’s Conservative Party Conference, is also intended to support the government’s so-called levelling-up ambitions.
Defence secretary Ben Wallace said: “The National Cyber Force located in Samlesbury will embrace exciting new offensive cyber technologies and provide thousands of highly skilled jobs and expertise to the north west. I am hugely proud and enthusiastic to see this happen, not only will it provide a catalyst for investment, but also see our levelling up agenda bring economic stimulus and tangible benefits to this region.”
Located between Preston and Blackburn, Samlesbury is home to little more than 1,000 people. Despite its small size, the village has a long-standing history as a centre of aerospace industry, and also houses one of the Budweiser Brewing Group’s two major UK breweries.
Sam Trendall is the editor of CSW's sister title PublicTechnology, where a verson of ths story first appeared.