BATTLESPACE Editor Julian Nettlefold visited NP Aerospace to meet new CEO James Kempston to discuss developments at NP Aerospace since James took over the helm in 2018.
“Since my last visit, the world has changed and we are now engaged in the first war in Europe since 1945, how has this impacted NP Aerospace?” The Editor asked.
“As the Ukraine conflict progressed, we made provisions to take on more staff and expand production. We have taken on 90 new staff in the last three months, taking the total to 260 today working 24/7 over 3 shifts to fulfil a raft of new orders for customers. These staff are local to Coventry and the West Midlands, so we are pleased to be making a vital contribution to the local economy, as well as sourcing UK-made sub systems and components. I visited Ukraine this year as part of my fund-raising activities for various charities, and to get feedback from humanitarian and military users regarding armour we have been supplying. It is certain that Western supplied equipment has helped protect the country’s frontline military personnel during the conflict. During my visit to Kyiv to meet Mayor Klitschko as part of the Brave Ukraine charity initiative, I noticed the stoic resilience of the local population to the various attacks and air raid warning I experienced whilst I was there. They have asked me to return to make a parachute jump for charity when the airspace opens, luckily it won’t be my first jump.” James Kempston said.
“Can you tell us the level of orders you have received since the conflict started?”
“I cannot go into our specific customers for obvious reasons, but we have supplied 20,000 sets of body armour and carrier vests into Ukraine over the last 3 months against contracts for over 60,000 sets and are now doing the equivalent of 2,000 sets per week, as well as over 1,000 helmets. We expect to be supplying these volumes for the coming months.
“Has your vehicle business been impacted by the increase in world conflicts?”
“Our vehicle business is continuing to grow due to many factors both in terms of new contracts and macro trends. We have increased our workload on vehicle projects under the UK Protected Mobility Engineering & Technical Support (PMETS) Programme which we won in 2019 and could be extended from 2024 to 2030 The PMETS contract, (worth over £63 million) where NP Aerospace is the engineering authority covers the MoD’s fleet of around 1,700 Protected Mobility Vehicles. We are effectively the prime contractor for all contract deliverables via PMETS partners such as Atkins, HORIBA-MIRA and ITS – vehicle OEMs (General Dynamics, Navistar, Supacat)- and other specialist companies. The vehicles covered under the contract include the Mastiff, Wolfhound, Ridgback, Buffalo, Choker, RODET, Foxhound, Jackal, Coyote and Husky. We are also one of seven companies on the MOD VSCAPS vehicle capital spares contract.
As part of PMETS, we have upgraded 17 Mastiff and Ridgback vehicles for the Operation Newcombe Mali deployment with new XC off road suspension systems which deliver the equivalent capability of other protected mobility vehicles, There are several hundreds of Mastiff and Ridgbacks in the fleet, so there is potential for more orders. Outside the UK we have won orders for our lightweight CAMAC armour which has been used in Germany for 181 WIESEL 1 AWC vehicles and is being considered for several projects in North America, Europe and the Middle East. CAMAC is a patented, composite vehicle armour solution that provides ultra-light multi-hit survivability, increased ground manoeuvrability and improved air transportability. It was developed 15 years ago and was used in Afghanistan and Iraq. We have delivered over 1,000 sets of CAMAC into NATO Allied Forces and are working on many add-on armour developments.”
“In terms of finance how has NP developed since you bought the business in 2018?”
“When we purchased NP in 2018, PFN Group owned 50% of the shares in the holding company and I owned the other 50%. NP Aerospace and its subsidiaries were acquired from Morgan Advanced Materials and rebranded as NP Aerospace. In 2021 I bought out PFN and now own 100% of NP. We have more than doubled our turnover since 2019 to over £32m and we expect to do more than double that this year. There was a heavy focus on the UK market when I took over and we are now at over 35% exports, with increasing sales into the Americas, Europe and the Middle East.”
“In terms of product development and R&D, are you increasing spend in this area?”
“Very much so, R&D spend accounts for 3% of our current turnover and we continue to look at new materials and technologies across our supply chain. In 2019, we announced our new 4030 ELITE Bomb Disposal Suit certified to NIJ 0117.01, the US National Institute of Justice Public Safety Bomb Suit standard, by the Safety Equipment Institute. The official report was received after an intensive 18-month development and testing program – opening up opportunities to sell the suit in the US and other global markets requiring NIJ certification. Having achieved Certification, we are supplying to the, FBI and airports in particular. NP Aerospace is one of only two manufacturers in the world to have been awarded this level of certification on a bomb disposal suit. We are also selling Police and Law Enforcement products including tactical shields, helmets and ballistic plates. NP Aerospace Bomb Disposal Suits are world leading in blast mitigation, survivability and overall comfort and ergonomics. We continue to supply the MK6 EOD suit to the UK. Users at global EOD events have commented on the suit’s outstanding flexibility and fit at a low weight, advanced blast protection and ability to configure the base suit with a wide range of accessories such as Communications, cooling and CBRN systems, we are also one of a number of key suppliers to selected to supply lightweight buoyant body armour to the US Navy.”
“Tell me more about the level of exports are you achieving?”
“Exports now account for over 35% of our business, we are looking to the US, European, Middle East, and South American, particularly Brazilian markets for growth having expanded our global salesforce and increased our distribution and reseller network to cater for both defence and law enforcement opportunities. The Canadian manufacturing facility continues to be extended as we expand into the US market, we have also won body armour business in Canada. In addition, we have extended the contract for our medical composites business which makes oncology beds for export to global health organisations including Siemens in Germany.”
“Did you expect to be running a defence company when you were planning your future post University?”
“I always had aspirations of running a business, but not specifically a defence company. My education in Canada was originally in physics however that would have most likely led me into a career as a teacher, professor or forensic scientist. I then did a second degree in engineering and even got involved in building and designing racing cars at the University of Western Ontario, now Western University. I then somehow found myself in business post university in sales consulting for the IT industry. Although successful, it didn’t inspire me so I eventually got back into engineering for a defence company and got involved in business development. After doing that for a few years I was headhunted by Morgan Advanced Materials to join their Canadian business development team in 2012 before being promoted to run the global BD team in 2017.
In 2018 Morgan disclosed they were divesting the NP Aerospace business and I decided to throw my hat into the ring and made a formal bid which was accepted and then I embraced all of the challenges that being a CEO in the defence industry brings.”
“How do you see the future of NP Aerospace?”
The future looks bright for the business as we continue to expand and develop our customer base and product offering. I intend to keep NP Aerospace at the forefront of armour development. Since our inception in 1926, NP has always been seen as a centre of manufacturing excellence and expanded into the defence composites world into the 1980s as we developed helmets for the British Army and the CAMAC CAV 100 Pod for the UK SNATCH vehicle used in Northern Ireland. We are always looking at next generation products and technologies to enhance armour in the future” We will also, as with most fast growing businesses, look at strategic acquisitions to allow us to capitalise on market opportunities. Not to mention continuing our support Ukraine and NATO allies as the conflict continues.”
James Kempston is a candidate for the BATTLESPACE 2022 Businessman of the Year.