BATTLESPACE Editor Julian Nettlefold visited NP Aerospace to meet new CEO James Kempston. The last time BATTLESPACE visited NP was in 2009 under the leadership of Roger Medwell.
“How did you come about buying NP Aerospace?” The Editor asked.
“I started working for Morgan Plc. in Business Development based in Canada in 2012. We won some significant helmet and armour contracts for the Canadian Armed Forces and other customers during this time. 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. At the same time I put together an acquisition company and an experienced team of M&A experts, financial experts and multiple law firms, as well as partner, Pasqua First Nations (PFN). After months of financial, legal and company due diligence, we finalised the deal towards midnight on November 20th.
“PFN Group own 50% of the shares in the holding company and I own the other 50%. Thus, NP Aerospace Ltd. and its subsidiaries were acquired from Morgan Advanced Materials and rebranded as NP Aerospace. I started work as NP’s CEO the next day with my team of 90 employees, nearly all of whom had been at NP for many years under both managements.
“Since then, we have already grown to 160 employees and forecast 190 by the end of 2021. Our turnover in 2018 and 2019 was less than £15 million. By 2020 we had grown it to £25 million and we expect over £30 million this year.
“There was a heavy focus on the UK market when I took over with a light order book. This led me to shake up the business to focus more on export opportunities and growing and diversifying our order book. Our efforts were rewarded with the Canadian Army helmet contract extension in 2019, the UK MoD PMETS Protected Mobility Engineering & Technical Support contract and other orders such as those for the German Army’s WIESEL Platform and UK MoD EOD suits. New market sectors have been targeted such as the Transportation Sector and various US military and law enforcement programmes are underway. Exports now account for over 30 % of our business.”
“How are you looking to grow the business?”
“We are looking to the US market for growth. The Canadian manufacturing facility has been extended as part of plans to expand into the US market. The LASA Soldier System Portfolio is expanded with new tactical shields and new ballistic plates targeting law enforcement and security markets. The US Navy being the latest to contract for the LASA LWB III+ Maritime Buoyant Plates. We have retained our existing UK MoD armour plate contracts and we will be bidding various upcoming programmes including Virtus. In addition, we have a new contract for our medical composites business which makes oncology beds for export to global health organisations.”
On the vehicle armour side of the business NP Aerospace will supply its lightweight CAMAC armour solutions for 181 WIESEL 1 AWC vehicles over a two-year period. CAMAC is a patented, composite vehicle armour solution that provides ultra-light enhanced survivability for platform and crew, increased ground manoeuvrability and improved air transportability. WIESEL 1 was developed for the German Army to meet a requirement for an air-transportable light armoured tracked vehicle, for use by airborne troops. The key focus of the Government funded upgrade programme is chassis improvements, ballistic and mine protection and the integration of communications and weapons systems. It applies to three AWC variants, ensuring they remain in service beyond 2030.
“The last time I came in 2009, NP had just purchased a new facility to service the Mastiff and Ridgback fleet and other vehicles for Afghanistan. What aspirations does NP have to expand its vehicle business?”
“We see vehicle and vehicle integration as a major growth area for NP. In 2019 NP Aerospace was selected in the face of strong competition to win the Protected Mobility Fleet Program Contract with the UK Ministry of Defence worth over £63 million, making it the engineering authority. The contract, known as PMETS (Protected Mobility Engineering & Technical Support) covers the MoD’s fleet of 2,200 Protected Mobility Vehicles until 2024, with options to extend. The vehicles covered under the contract include the Mastiff, Wolfhound, Ridgback, Buffalo, Choker, RODET, Foxhound, Jackal, Coyote and Husky.
“NP Aerospace has years of experience leading complex military vehicle integrations, robust testing and battlefield certification, together with class-leading capability in composite armour. The company has designed, manufactured and installed the full multi-hit CAMAC platform armour onto a variety of vehicles used to protect army staff on UK MoD operations and continues to be at the forefront of armour and vehicle technology today.
“Armoured vehicles save lives on the battlefield and this contract will ensure they are repaired, upgraded and returned to the frontline as quickly as possible. The UK MoD is a key partner for NP Aerospace. Winning the Protected Mobility Engineering & Technical Support contract demonstrates the company’s commitment to delivering world class armour technology and vehicle integration to protect the British Armed Forces. It puts NP Aerospace at the forefront of strategic delivery within the Defence Equipment and Support (DE&S) Vehicle Systems. The contract supports approximately 100 jobs in Coventry and 250 jobs across the UK supply chain until 2024 Since 2020 a further 50 jobs have been created at NP Aerospace’s HQ in Foleshill and associated suppliers and contractors.”
As engineering authority for 2,200 protected mobility vehicles under PMETS, NP Aerospace is the prime contractor for all contract deliverables and works closely with PMETS partners – Atkins, HORIBA-MIRA and ITS – and other specialist companies.
One of the most significant tasks recently has been to re-engineer the Mastiff and Ridgback vehicles for deployment to Mali, Africa, to support British troops. The programme was delivered during COVID-19 restrictions with vehicles delivered in just over 80 working days.
New vehicle systems have been implemented including new Horstman suspension systems incorporating Ride Height Control, along with upgraded driveline, steering and braking systems, central tyre inflation systems and increased diameter tyres. This allows the vehicles to operate off road in the same terrain as Foxhound and Jackal.
“Are you looking at new product development?”
“Very much so, we see a host of applications for protective clothing and infantry armour systems. We announced our new 4030 ELITE Bomb Disposal Suit which has been 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. 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 looking at a whole new range of Police and Law Enforcement products including tactical shields and ballistic plates. NP Aerospace Bomb Disposal Suits are world leading in blast mitigation, survivability and overall comfort and ergonomics. Adding NIJ certification to an already world leading product is a significant accolade for our business and our EOD product line. As a global armor manufacturer with over 40 years’ experience in ballistic protection NP Aerospace is well versed in complex testing programs, however reaching this milestone in just 18 months is a major achievement. Users who require NIJ certified Bomb Disposal Suits now have the choice for a highly comfortable, ergonomic option with best-in -class survivability.”
The 4030 ELITE suit is now part of several program tenders – attracting significant interest from defense and law enforcement organizations. Users at recent US EOD events have commented on the suit’s flexibility and fit at a low weight, advanced blast protection and ability to configure the base suit with a wide range of accessories. Communications, cooling and CBRN systems can be easily added to the suit without costly system upgrades.
The Editor met David Petheram, Chief Operating Officer, NP Aerospace to discuss the recent task to re-engineer vehicles for deployment to Mali, Africa. This latest off-road mobility upgrade is part of the PMETS contract and is valued at c. £7 million covering 12 vehicles, NRE, ongoing support and associated spares. It has enabled proven, heavy armoured vehicles held within the protected mobility fleet to be used to protect British Army troops in challenging operational terrains. Optimising current platforms has significantly reduced delivery timescales, ensuring soldiers are safer, faster.
“The off-road mobility upgrade is a significant development for the UK MoD. It has potential to extend the life of Ridgback and Mastiff which have saved lives on operation, whilst delivering performance improvements to match other high mobility vehicles. Reduced vehicle vibration has lessened driver and passenger fatigue, providing a better working environment for operational tasks. Mobility improvements have enabled a proven platform to be used in theatres of operation previously unachievable for standard vehicles. Whilst the upgrade was driven by a specific Urgent Capability Requirement, we see this development having a much wider impact. By using experienced NP Aerospace staff alongside off the shelf components, NP Aerospace has cut costs significantly and enabled UK MoD to handle new combat environments without the burden of developing a completely new platform. The speed at which we and our partners have re-engineered the platforms, with fully functional prototypes delivered in just over 80 working days, has shown that we have the capabilities to meet challenging military requirements even in a global pandemic with supply chain restrictions. A total of over 700 Mastiff and Ridgback vehicles have been armoured and integrated by NP Aerospace over the last 15 years for use in various operational theatres.” David Petheram said.
“You were recently awarded a contract to install hybrid electric-drive systems on a number of vehicles.”
“Yes, in 2020 we were awarded a £3m contract by the UK MoD for NP Aerospace to prime and demonstrate hybrid electric-drive systems on Foxhound and Jackal vehicles, with the project being delivered in collaboration with General Dynamics Land Systems UK, Supacat and Magtec. The contract award is part of the Protected Mobility Engineering & Technical Support (PMETS) programme.” David Petheram said.
Developed by Magtec in the UK, the hybrid electric e-drive solution for Foxhound and Jackal is intended to deliver multiple technical and operational enhancements, including (but not limited to); Silent mobility; Enhanced Silent Watch capabilities; Off-board electrical power; Increased onboard power for the insertion of the latest technologies.
Alongside delivering multiple technical and operational enhancements, the introduction of hybrid technology will ultimately reduce the Army’s reliance on fossil fuels – a step towards the Government’s 2050 net zero goal.
“The Protected Mobility Engineering & Technical Support (PMETS) programme delivers safety, efficiency and innovation activities across a variety of vehicle platforms, via a collaborative approach. The hybrid electric drive project is a significant development that will further extend the technical capabilities of the vehicles and is an important advancement in the incorporation of new technology. It will provide a greater understanding of what hybrid technology could achieve, whilst also looking to the future in terms of integrating additional sophisticated electronics across the PMETS vehicle fleet.” David Petheram said.
Comprehensive Factory Tour
After a comprehensive factory tour by Anthony Moran, Director of Engineering, demonstrated that NP had advanced from old techniques of hand sewing bomb disposal suits and hand moulding helmets to the installation of a number of robots to build and mould helmets and new cutting technologies to make bomb disposal suits. Historically NP had chosen Coventry due to staff expertise and its midlands industrial location. For example, there are a large number of Indian women experienced in precision sewing techniques. The company has also installed an advanced 5 axis water jet cutter for precision armour cutting. There are three autoclaves of 3, 5 and 8 metres in length, the latter of which can accommodate a complete military vehicle hull. NP can now produce 1,500 helmets plus a month using these advanced manufacturing techniques. Every armour plate is X rayed and they are batch tested for ballistic and performance and safety.
Safety, Test and Development
The Editor was then taken to meet Adrian Smith, Quality Director who oversees safety, testing and compliance at NP Aerospace.
“Our armour saves lives, so we have to ensure not only that our products are extensively tested but also that we keep up with developments in world markets to ensure that our products match the current threats and thus military and law enforcement personnel are given the best protection with the best equipment. To that end we have numerous accreditations including ISO 9001, ISO17025 and we test to a variety of international standards including NIJ, AEP and STANAG.
“Weight saving must form part of your development programmes?”
“Yes, the larger the threat, the more armour is required to defeat it. However, using new materials and technologies we have been able to make significant weight savings. For example, over the last few years we have taken a kilo out of the weight of our high threat ballistic plates and we are now producing 20% lighter helmets with 30% better performance. This is critical for new international programmes.
“Testing forms a critical part of your product R&D?”
“Yes we have two live firing ranges where we can test our armour up to 14.5mm and we have on-site access to over 30,000 rounds of ammunition. The ranges have high speed cameras top and bottom to measure trajectory, bullet travel and penetration. Having our own ranges gives us advantages over our competition as we can develop and test new and existing armour quickly against a variety of threats with confidence. This ultimately benefits the end user.
“At NP Aerospace we are passionately committed to delivering high quality, technically advanced, life-saving products that ultimately bring our loved ones home. Testing and quality control play a critical role in this.” Adrian Smith said.
The Editor left NP Aerospace safe in the knowledge that not only will the new management led by James Kempston develop and sell a whole new range of products which will benefit UK Plc but that they have retained that vital ingredient of ensuring the safety and integrity of all their armoured products.