University of Leicester academic helps to solve mystery of ‘golf-ball’ structures on Norfolk air base

Credit: Bob Jones

An academic from the University of Leicester has been featured on the latest episode of The Patch on BBC Radio 4.

Dr Bleddyn Bowen, Associate Professor of International Relations is one of only a handful of experts in space policy and international relations in space.

He was asked to offer his insight on a number of mysterious 'golf ball-shaped’ structures on RAF Feltwell in rural Norfolk.

The airbase has been used by the US military for decades although the purpose of the dome structures has remained a mystery to local residents.

Host of The Patch, Polly Weston, made it her mission to find out what the buildings were used for, enlisting Dr Bowen and his expertise to do so.

Dr Bowen revealed that RAF Feltwell was stationed by the US Space Force, the newest branch of the US military.

The US Space Force was signed into law under President Donald Trump in 2019. It operates the United States’ military satellites, including GPS as well as the U.S. missile warning systems and its Space Surveillance Network.

On the programme, Dr Bowen said: "The US Space Force as an idea has been spoken about for almost as long as the entirety of the US Air Force."

He said: "It didn't help that it was Trump who did it. It really heightened the ease at which people were able to ridicule it.

"And yet, looking at the Trump presidency, it is one of the least ridiculous things that he has done."

"Much of the reason why the US military is the most effective conventional fighting force in the world is because of its advantages in space.

"It has the best space equipment, the best satellites and more of them than anyone else.

According to Dr Bowen, the golf balls at RAF Feltwell seem to be “a fairly standard space tracking facility." As part of the Space Surveillance Network, it helps track the 6,000 active satellites in orbit, as well as hundreds of thousands of pieces of space junk.

Polly Weston also spoke to General John W. Raymond, the first commander of the U.S Space Command and later first Chief of the US Space Force, who also spent time at RAF Feltwell earlier in his military career.

The Patch is a weekly radio programme broadcast on BBC Radio 4 which sees a small team of journalists find and report a news story from a random UK postcode. To find out more, the latest episode of The Patch is available to listen to here.

Dr Bleddyn Bowen's university profile can be found here.