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BAE Systems – Building on R&D Innovation and Investment By Howard Wheeldon, FRAeS, Wheeldon Strategic Advisory Ltd.





The award to BAE Systems of the Canadian ‘Surface Combatant’ ship design in February and which, based on the UK’s currently in-build Type 26 ‘Global Combat Ship’ programme, followed the award to BAE Systems late last year for the design and build of the ‘Hunter class’ Frigate for the Australian Government – this design also based on the Royal Navy Type 26 – provides further real evidence of benefit and of how the company is investing in its own future. 

BAE Systems success in winning the design and build award for the Australian ‘Hunter’ class frigate programme together with the Type 26 design also being chosen as the basis for Canadian Government ‘Surface Combatant’ programme not only emphasise undeniable strengths that the company has in military ship design capability but also a real determination to collaborate and succeed internationally.

The Australian and Canadian awards reinforce Type 26 ‘Global Combat Ships’ as being the most advanced warship design in the world and I view the success that BAE Systems has achieved in both these programmes as being the result of huge effort not only from the company and all those involved internally but also because of the excellent support that has been provided by the Royal Navy and the UK Government export support team. 

Having visited all of BAE Systems defence based activities over the years I have long regarded BAE Systems as being a master in technology development. Recognised internationally for the strength of its innovative work in design of a vast range of sophisticated defence equipment programmes and innovative technology designs within the military aircraft, warship, submarines and land systems domains, I suspect that BAE Systems is less well recognised as a company that is actively positioning itself to be at the cutting edge of wide ranging science and technology based future developments – those that it views as being crucial in order to maintain and advance the many world leading capabilities that the company already has. 

Across Air, Maritime, Land, Electronic Systems and Applied Intelligence domains one finds BAE Systems not only investing in innovative future technology requirements but importantly also in its people and their training.

From synthetic based and operational training developments, strategic and novel capabilities, new enablers, artificial intelligence and information advantage, aircraft systems, pilot and aircrew training, human factors, augmented reality displays and application, production evolution, energy, propulsion, weapons including laser directed energy, countermeasures, various land, surface and sub-surface maritime equipment including radar, communications, long range sensing, munitions, mission systems and support applications and secure infrastructure, one finds BAE Systems investing and actively engaging with great universities and others developing the range of new and innovative technologies that will be needed tomorrow.

Key to any customer relationship is partnership and sustaining this through providing ever improved levels of performance and efficiencies. As a company I well know that BAE Systems is dedicated to customer performance enhancement whilst at the same time, a company that is prepared to look outside of the box in regard of technology investment that can underpin existing business and product strategies.

Operational Training – live operational training combined with simulation-based training with an aim to deliver a 50/50 live to synthetic basis of training in mission planning related to Typhoon Capability Development, FACMIS (Future Air Combat Manoeuvring Instrumentation Systems and many other aspects including of strategic training initiatives are growing in size and requirement but be in no doubt that BAE Systems is at the forefront of operational training environments. 

This is a company engaged across many spheres of research and technology development and I suspect that I would need at least four or five pages to list all the various technology development applications, systems, product and materials that BAE Systems is engaged with partners. Working with academics including at Birmingham University, Sheffield, Southampton, Strathclyde together with organisations such as DSTL, Defence Growth Partnership, DE&S, Tech UK, National Composites, Catapult High Value Manufacturing and companies such as Thales, QinetiQ, MBDA and Leonardo the company understands that in order to achieve higher technology readiness levels requires alliances and partnerships to be formed not only with Universities, large supplier companies and other defence primes but also with small, medium and large none traditional partners and enterprises.

On a recent visit to BAE Systems Air Warton facility in Lancashire I was very impressed with the level of research and development programme activities being undertaken. Focused research and technology development investment underpins business and product strategies across the whole of the group and it is really good to see a company such as BAE Systems maximising potential benefits through all forms of collaboration.

Easy for us to forget that developments such as Cyber, Autonomy, AI and Big Data did not really exist or were in their infancy ten years ago. Today these have become part of our daily language. Immersive technologies and which I have previously written are now all but being taken for granted as being the way forward for an ever-increasing variety of training aspects and as each year goes by, it seems that more and more novel systems and weapons are being developed.

BAE Systems may be a global entity with a number of individual ‘home markets’ but it is also playing a very large role ensuring that UK remains at the forefront of research and technology development and product innovation. Defence continues to evolve and whatever our individual or collective strengths we do not know yet what the future landscape will look like in 25 years from now. It is by understanding that only through technology development can the next generation of defence capabilities and requirement be found. That next generation will include much increase defence capability in Space because it is in the wider universe that we now already rely for communications, to the running of industry, commerce, power and utility requirements, and that we now take for granted. Defence of our investments in Space will undoubtedly play a very much larger role than it does today – something that BAE Systems is well aware of.  

BAE Systems has long recognised the importance of space and in 2015 the company acquired a 20% stake in Reaction Engines. Leveraging from its radio frequency systems, antenna design, synthetic aperture radar processing, radio hardened electronics and mapping software expertise, BAE Systems is already well placed in command, control and communication enabling with spacecraft.         

As a company, the strength of purpose and intention to remain the visible leader in international collaboration is not just restricted to warships. My recent visit to BAE Systems Air at Warton also highlighted the enormity of focus that the company has placed on research and development investment in very specific areas of expertise such as synthetic based training applications to be used in product design, build and operations and on a particular specialist area for me, that of specific human factors.

Over the past few years the determination of BAE Systems to remain leader in large international collaborative programmes such as Typhoon, the Lockheed Martin F-35 Joint Strike Fighter programme and in the delivery of future through life support for this exceptional military aircraft internationally, but also in training and determination to retain the lead position in MRO as a through-life integrator. BAE Systems has deserved the success that it has achieved and it knows that there is still much more business to be won.  

For a company that in the military air domain is best known for building Typhoon and Hawk jets, major component structures of the Lockheed Martin F-35 Joint Strike Fighter and most recently, for the leading role the company and the Royal Air Force are playing in the Team Tempest development but the determination to build on the strength of what the company has already achieved in its support and training systems solutions activities.

Typhoon remains a very important programme for BAE Systems and having recently completed on time and on budget Project CENTURION, a programme that has enabled the Royal Air Force to transition key combat air weapons delivery capabilities from Tornado GR4 to Typhoon and that will now move forward to the next Project Janus phase, much credit is deserved by all those that have been involved.

Also in the BAE Systems Air domain are vital future investment and other projects such as Tempest, E-Scan Radar, red key combat air capabilities together with the Typhoon Total Availability (TyTAN) support programme, one that sets out to provide a single contract framework within a long-term 10 year programme combined with a focus on continuous performance enhancement.  

With a mission to remain leader in international collaboration and delivery of through life combat air systems and training capabilities, I believe that BAE Systems is extremely well placed for the future. Having won Typhoon and Hawk for Qatar last year and with live programme campaigns in other Gulf region states together with the prospect of Germany now in the process of deciding to acquire more Typhoon aircraft and with several other live Typhoon campaigns in motion, this remains a fascinating programme to observe. Important too is that with Typhoon, Tornado and Hawk aircraft in service with many countries outside of the UK, aspects of training and long-term sustainment programmes will grow in their importance.

CHW (London – 14th May 2019)

Howard Wheeldon FRAeS 

Wheeldon Strategic Advisory Ltd,

M: +44 7710 779785

Skype: chwheeldon



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