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Leonardo Edinburgh – Great Product, Great Company By Howard Wheeldon, FRAeS, Wheeldon Strategic Advisory Ltd.




One of the top ten defence and aerospace companies in the world and one that also has significant manufacturing presence in what it terms as four domestic markets – the USA, UK, Poland and Italy – Rome based Leonardo can be defined not only as a global high-tech company but also one that is a key international player in aerospace, defence and security.

Here in the UK Leonardo is the nation’s second largest defence industrial business employing over 7,000 people across six different locations and that has supply chain sustaining an estimated 25,000 jobs within 1,700 individual companies of which approximately 1,300 come within the SME category.

A truly international company, Leonardo is engaged in almost all aspects of defence and aerospace related activity. This includes building military and civil helicopters and aircraft, aerostructures, airborne and space systems, land and naval defence electronics, defence systems and security and information systems. In electronic and information technologies for defence systems, aerospace, data, infrastructure, land security and protection and sustainable SMART solutions, the company is justifiably proud of its design, development and production capabilities and of the state-of-the-art equipment, software and systems and through-life support that it provides.

Over the years, I have visited various Leonardo production facilities in Italy and here in the UK but it was only recently that I was able to visit the magnificent Edinburgh site in which Radar, Lasers, Infra-Red Counter Measures and Electro-Optic Targeting equipment are produced. I have in the past written on the Yeovil based helicopter operations and over time I will likely visit and subsequently write on other UK and Italian based Leonardo operations. However, for this piece I intend to concentrate predominantly on the Edinburgh based Leonardo activities.

Based in very modern facilities, Leonardo can claim to have a long and illustrious history in Edinburgh – one that emanated from a decision taken by Ferranti in 1943 to open a plant at Crew Toll, Edinburgh in order to manufacture gun sights for the Spitfire. In the years that subsequently followed post Ferranti, ownership of the Edinburgh based activities would come under the ownership of Plessey, GEC Marconi and BAE Systems before, by then known as Selex ES, the operation was acquired in 1995 by Finmeccanica, a group company that two years ago changed its name to Leonardo.

Leonardo is proud of the heritage and building on this the company has leveraged its core technologies strengths in radar systems, radio communications, electronic warfare, infrared detection, signal processing, network systems, systems engineering and many other things across its broad UK and international operation to be what it is today .

In order to provide some spectrum as to what Leonardo Group produces as a whole within the definition of electronic warfare capability, let me remind by saying that the company produces in excess of 60% of the defence avionics equipment fitted to the Eurofighter Typhoon military aircraft capability. An example of this is that approaching 600 Leonardo built mechanically scanned radar array systems have been fitted to the aircraft. As is well known, the intention is that Eurofighter Typhoon will be fitted with Captor E-Scan Radar to be provided by the Euroradar consortium, and joint venture which is led by Leonardo.

This is a significant project enhancement and Typhoon Captor-E-Scan Radar provides significantly more power than competing systems. It is worth mentioning here yet another important product manufactured at the Leonardo Edinburgh site, this being the laser-directed infrared counter-measure system that was designed for the Northrop Grumman produced anti-missile technology known as Nemesis.

Leonardo Edinburgh is today based on production of a large variety of radar and advanced targeting equipment. With 1,800 employees on site of whom 70% are engineers and technical specialists, the company can also, in my view, be justifiably proud of its achievements in respect of graduate trainee programmes and apprentice schemes.

The highly complex equipment produced in Edinburgh fitted to Royal Navy ships and submarines, Royal Air Force aircraft capability and also in equipment used by the Army is also exported to many allied countries across the world. AESA Surveillance equipment in the form of Seaspray 7500E is fitted to US Coast Guard HC-130H aircraft while Norway is the launch customer for the Osprey SWaP radar system and which will be fitted to the new fleet of Leonardo UK built EH101 helicopters.

In all, 30 countries have I believe either ordered or are currently using Leonardo Edinburgh manufactured AESA Surveillance Radar and Italy, NATO, the USA, Australia, Canada and various Middle East, Asia Pacific and Far East countries are all to be found on the list of UK export customers.  These facts highlight the importance to the UK of Leonardo’s continued investment in its defence related operations together with the high level of investment to that goes into product development here in the UK. Worthy of note too is that the company maintains a higher than average level of research and development spend and is not shy of investing in its own future.

Worthy of mention too is that the Lockheed Martin F-35 Joint Strike fighter aircraft of which the UK is a Toer One partner have Leonardo Edinburgh built targeting lasers. So too does the Apache helicopter for which the UK has ordered 138 to replace the existing fleet. Army equipment by the way includes the Type 163 laser.

Radar, infrared sensors, lasers, jamming systems, targeting systems, decoys and many other electromagnetic based products that identify, interfere, jam and harass enemy ability to detect whilst also having the ability to defeat hostile radars and missiles are all extremely important aspects of what Leonardo produces in the UK. Whilst, as mentioned, the company has a number of other important UK manufacturing facilities including Basildon, (Optronics, defence communications systems, critical national infrastructure, land systems and acoustics) Luton (defensive aids suites, radar warning receivers, jammers, EW Cyber, missions systems Integration, Satellite services, geo-information and ground systems) and Southampton (Infra-red Detection, Defence Communications Systems, Traffic Control Systems) together with Cyber and Information Assurance, critical Infrastructure and Training and Simulation facilities located in Bristol plus the large helicopter manufacturing operation at Yeovil, Edinburgh is clearly one of its most important and highly invested centers of excellence.

Clearly, a number of products that for security reasons cannot be mentioned also emanate from the Edinburgh based Leonardo operation. Apart from manufacturing, Edinburgh is also where the company design fire control and surveillance equipment. Two further high-profile examples of what Leonardo investment in the UK has achieved and that are more than worthy of mention include the Raven ES05 active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar equipment being fitted to Saab’s next-generation Gripen jets and also the Leonardo Seaspray, which will allow the Swing Role Surveillance System (SRSS) to conduct surveillance using a variety of advanced modes and that enhances the platform’s ability to detect targets.

Laser equipment remains a very important part of the work undertaken by Leonardo in the UK and I believe that it is correct to say that its engineers meet approximately 75% of the global demand for high-energy military lasers. One such applications is, as already mentioned, the targeting laser fitted to the F-35 STOVL aircraft that will arrive in the UK later this year and that is already in operation in the US, Italy and some other countries.

In the Land and Naval Defence Electronics domain Leonardo provides a range of robust combat-proven capability solutions that deliver critical real-time mission data and information. While the core technologies remain based around radar systems, radio communications, electronic warfare, infrared detection, signal processing, network systems and systems engineering, Leonardo people are thinking long term and investing ahead.

For the Royal Navy Leonardo produces the electro-optical systems that provide gun fire control for frigates and targeting for the Sea Wolf missile. Leonardo equipment is fitted to just about every Royal Navy submarine and warship. The company has also supplied the integrated communications system for the Type 45 destroyer and Tide Class MARS Tanker fleet. Worth mentioning too that in the air domain Leonardo has supplied its Titan multi-sensor turret for the UK’s fleet of Chinook helicopters and also the precision IR guidance seeker for the Anglo-French Storm Shadow cruise missile.

Leonardo prides itself on the ability to design and develop products and systems that come with through life support and upgradeability potential built in as being a key foundation points.

CHW (London – 3rd April 2018)

Howard Wheeldon FRAeS

Wheeldon Strategic Advisory Ltd,

M: +44 7710 779785

Skype: chwheeldon




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