Monday, 20 May 2024
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By Alex Dorrian, Chief Executive, Thales UK and President of the Society of British Aerospace Companies

At the September/October political party conferences the defence industry was represented at all the Defence Matters fringe meetings, on which Defence Viewpoints commented at the time. The industry "party line" was put over by a number of spokesmen, most senior of whom was Alex Dorian. This was the essence of the industry case)

The UK defence industry

The UK defence industry contributes to the defence and security of the UK by:

providing the men and women of the armed forces with the equipment, services and support to do their difficult and dangerous job.Providing equipment, technology and expertise in the aerospace of National securityContributing to economic well-being, through employing some of the brightest minds in thousands of high-value manufacturing and engineering jobs.

Today the industry employs 305,000 people in the UK – directly and through the supply chain. This is 10% of manufacturing jobs and many of these jobs are in parts of the UK that have traditionally suffered from low rates of economic growth.

The industry is highly skilled, with 39 percent of workers holding NVQ Level 4 (just under degree level). Because it is a high-tech sector investing 4% of turnover in research and development it's not surprising that Oxford Economics and independent consultancy have estimated that for every £100m invested in defence 1.6 jobs are created elsewhere in

the economy.

Work with the Armed Forces

A crucial part of industry's work in the last decade has been the provision of Urgent Operational Requirements to the Armed Forces in Iraq and Afghanistan. That is equipment that is adapted or upgraded rapidly to respond to unpredicted needs in the battlefield.

The urgent operational requirements reflect the emerging threats and the skills and technology of the UK industrial base to be able to deliver

It is virtually impossible to predict every need in advance, so that equipment will need to be adapted quickly. Time is of the essence under these circumstances and having a UK based industry that is geared up to responding to new requirements quickly makes all the difference to those facing deadly circumstances. These range from the upgrades to Ridgeback and Mastiffs to infantry equipment and the Osprey body armour which has helped save the lives of many Armed Forces personnel and reduce the level of injuries.

But these days, our employees don't just design, manufacture and test equipment. With the Armed Forces a third smaller than two decades ago, the MoD has transferred some functions and activities which used to be carried out by service personnel to industry, allowing the Armed Forces to devote their time and expertise to the job they do best.

Because of this shift, it is now commonplace for industry personnel to work from military bases in the UK. Here they inspect, maintain, replace or upgrade helicopters, fixed wing aircraft, vehicles, or complex naval computer systems. This is also where industry helps train the Armed Forces

Services provided by the UK defence industrial base extend beyond the UK's shores and dependencies. Personnel from industry have supported the Armed Forces in their work in Afghanistan, Iraq, Balkans and in the Indian Ocean. They assist on a variety of tasks from engineering and camp infrastructure, welfare communications into the Main and Forward Operating Bases and air and sea lift to theatres, movement of materials and supplies along in-theatre lines of communications and provision of a number of tactical level transportation means.

Industry's contribution to the security of the UK

Many companies in the defence industry also provide security support, which is unsurprising as there is a clear crossover between the technologies and expertise in the two sectors. For example, the same technology that has been developed to detect certain IED components can also screen people for weapons and explosives in a civilian environment.

With the defence and security of the nation more entwined than ever, the role of the defence industry in supporting forces to meet security challenges in the UK is increasing.

The need for a defence review and how it should be run

It is clear that the defence industry has a unique contribution to make to the UK's defence and security. But this is only because of the skills and expertise available in the UK industrial base. If not for this, our Armed Forces would not rely able to consistently receive the support and equipment they need. For industry to do its job, we believe there has to be a defence review which starts by looking at the threats the UK faces, and is not purely budget driven.

A review should be a clear statement is required of what capabilities the Government considers are important in these respects, and what it wants to maintain in the UK industrial base. This is essential for the future health of companies in the sector in the UK; the decisions they have to make about future investments; and their ability to attract funds from potential investors.

For instance, Research and Technology is accepted as key to future capability and responsive kit. Investment here turns the innovative ideas and theory into the technological reality that saves lives on the battlefield. This is a point acknowledged by the Defence Industrial Strategy.

Unfortunately total UK R&T funding has fallen as a proportion of GDP from 2.3% in 1981 to 1.9% in 2005. It is a matter of great concern that research investment has fallen back even further since 2005, whilst that of our competitors continues to increase. This is why industry is asking Government to have a greater focus on R&T.

Similarly, because we cannot foresee every threat– who for instance would have predicted a decade ago the casualties IEDs now cause. If in the future our Armed Forces face yet another new threat, a UK based defence industry that is healthy can assist the Armed Forces in their response.

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