Based at a former second world-war airfield at Dunkeswell in deepest Devon countryside close to Honiton, it was with great pleasure during February, four years since I had last visited this interesting and highly motivated small but fast growing organisation, I returned to see what progress had been achieved. What I found was a much expanded and well invested company, one that was in very good heart and very much looking forward to an exciting future.
A ‘one stop’ shop for engineering product innovation and one that takes concept, simulation, design, prototype build, test and evaluation into production build followed by full through-life support SC Group, the name for the holding company of which ‘Supacat’ is a subsidiary, is much respected by its customers for what it has done and for what it continues to do. It is also an important company within the overall construct of defence.
Founded in 1981 by a pair of highly skilled entrepreneurs who had the desire to develop specialist military vehicles, SC Group has in terms of military and other specialist equipment morphed from those early days into a full scale developer and manufacturer of a diverse range of complex engineering capability and equipment for the MOD together with various other international military and civil based customers.
The specialist land vehicles that SC Group builds and supports through-life are used by different sections of the UK military, including Special Forces, and by those of other international military operations as far away as Australia and New Zealand. Apart from military land based products, SC Group also designs and builds for a range of complex marine based equipment for customers engaged in maritime, oil & gas, renewables and nuclear industries.
Having a now well-established history of achievement and successful growth and having raised standards in the design and development of a wide range of sophisticated cross-sector specialist land and marine based products, knowing the company as I do, I believe this one has a very exciting future.
Replete with a passionate, dedicated and highly motivated skilled workforce together with excellent leadership, SC Group is a shining example of what Britain needs and is really very good at – innovation in design and complex engineering, the ability to be flexible and adaptable to specific complex customer requirements and to deliver complex high quality equipment fast.
While ‘Supacat’ may be best known for its specialist military vehicles used by the UK Ministry of Defence and various other specialist military users around the world, less well known but no less impressive is the work the company has done to solve specific problems that, for instance, the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) had in finding a vehicle that could launch an 18 tonne lifeboat into the water in minutes and that itself would need to be submersed under 9 metres of water.
The RNLI work that what is now SC Group undertook was to be a major challenge for all involved and it required years of hard work and rigid testing in order to get it right. Today though, what is known as the Launch and Recovery Systems (LRS) vehicle that Supacat developed and that has and continues to be built and supported by SC Group working with the RNLI may be described as having already proved to be a great success.
In respect of specialist military vehicles developed by SC Group, the now well-proven range of off-road, wheeled and tracked vehicles has grown over the years as the company expanded to meet tough standards, Urgent Operational Requirements of the UK military and the differing requirements for high-mobility cross-country specialist military vehicle designs. Today SC Group may be described as supporting the military and assisting in rescuing the public; the harnessing of energy and protecting of the environment or more simply, from exploration to innovation.
As SC Group the company has evolved into a well-structured, diversified predominantly engineering based organisation – one that has a strategy always designed to take on challenges set and to provide the customer with what it wants and to then support that capability through life.
SC Group CEO Nick Ames has been with ‘Supacat’ since 2003 – a chartered accountant by profession and bringing in important skills from his previous industry and service based roles that included a spell at Serco, Ames not only understands the need for sound strategy and strong leadership but also the ability to handle everything that the complex world of design and production engineering can throw up – warts and all. Nick Jones who founded the company continues to be involved and is the real engineer behind many of the complex programmes; the Finance Director is Shaun Mitchell and Operations Director is Lizzie Jones. SC Group also has an operation in Port Melbourne, Australia with Michael Halloran as Managing Director. John Treasure is the company’s Non-Executive Director and the Chief Engineer, Head of Engineering and Head of Commercial respectively are Steve Austen, Nick Baker and Al Goodwin.
Although seemingly in the middle of nowhere deep down in the West Country close to the Somerset border, the Dunkeswell airfield site is extremely well placed for a manufacturer of specialist vehicles and includes fabrication, vehicle assembly, stores plus separate engineering, prototyping and repair workshops. Separately, a few miles away and on yet another former military airfield, the company is able to make use of open land together with dense hilly woodland facilities in order to test vehicle design.
Apart from Dunkeswell and the separate acquired operation in Australia, SC Group also has additional separate engineering based subsidiary operations in Somerset and South Devon locations together with a marine engine distribution operation located in Hamble in Hampshire.
Important also in the context of market positioning is that this is a company that does not have a significant turnover of staff. Indeed, in respect of SC Group’s maintaining of important high end engineering skills in the South-West region and of general employment, this is an important company in terms of the region as a whole. In respect of engineering skills, across the wider group SC Group employs close to 60 project, design, electrical, systems, trials and supportability engineers worldwide together with technical authors. The company currently employs over 240 personnel and in turnover terms has grown substantially in recent years as it has expanded its operations.
From the initial beginnings based on what was a passion by Nick Jones and business partner David Clayton to develop and manufacture cross-country vehicles suffice to say that the company has gone from strength to strength. The development process had begun with what is known as the All-Terrain Mobility Platform (ATMP) of which around 200 are currently believed to still be in use globally.
The ATMP success was followed by the successful design and build of the HMT 400 ‘Jackal’ high mobility vehicle and which, as I can personally attest, provides unparalleled cross-country performance across virtually any terrain. This was extended with the HMT 600 ‘Coyote’ design and the HMT Extenda Mk 2 Special Operations Vehicle of which Australia has ordered many.
The UK Government took delivery of around 565 ‘Jackals’ over the years – these being built in Babcock International’s Devonport dockyard operation in Plymouth as part of formal arrangements between Supacat and Babcock. Although that build facility is now closed, SC Group continues to support these vehicles during the through life period and to further extend the life of the capability.
The small, light-weight, agile protection vehicle known as the SPV400 with its ‘V’ shaped hull capable of providing speed and taking blast protection to new dimensions, the LRV which is based on a Land Rover Discovery chassis with body adapted for special specialist military use together with other very interesting designs and concepts, bar the odd bump caused by contract completion and timings, suffice to say that what is now SC Group has gone from strength to strength.
Apart from supporting existing designs including refurbishment of Jackal and other specialist vehicles it has produced for the MOD and that have seen considerable amounts of service in Afghanistan, Iraq and other conflict areas, SC Group is engaged in working for countries such as Norway, New Zealand and Australia where it also maintains a small number of staff. The company is also working on a number of other campaigns either on its own or with partners.
In addition to what it is best known for SC Group has and continues to be engaged in a variety of other specialist marine and land products. The Protected Transit Vehicle based on an All-Wheel Drive Mercedes van chassis provided a complete safe environment facility complete with detection and filtration systems giving protection for passengers and operator from various gasses. Innovation in marine vehicles has included the very interesting SMV 24 multi-purpose offshore vessel that can be adapted for a variety of uses, the RNLI launch and recovery system mentioned earlier, the BOLT Lifesaver Wave Energy Device and other interesting projects.
In terms of subsidiary companies, Proteum distributes and supports a wide range of marine diesel engines whilst Blackhill Engineering is a premium engineering and fabrication service acquired relatively recently and that had been an important supplier to other parts of SC Group.
The Jackal, a 4×4 weapons mounted patrol vehicle followed and in 2009 the company announced that it was joining forces with Babcock International, the leading engineering support services specialist, to deliver around 110 Jackal 2 mounted patrol vehicles (this was an enhanced version of the original Jackal design) together with an additional 70 of the latest 6×6 ‘Coyote’ Tactical Support Vehicle (Light) the company was already regarded as a major player in its field. The contract which was worth around £55 million was an Urgent Operational Requirement (UOR) response and the vehicles produced quickly found themselves being used to support operations in Afghanistan. For this contract Supacat, as the design authority, was responsible for design, development, prototyping, integration and overall programme management whilst Babcock International took responsibility for detailed production planning, purchasing and manufacture at their Devonport dockyard facility.
With additional facilities in Melbourne, Australia (Supacat had acquired the business assets and staff of Unique Solution Partners in 2013 bringing with it world-class capabilities in Computer Aided Engineering and Composites Material technology) SC Group has the capability to design, develop and build all the disciplines of vehicle design, including engineering and testing and also specialist material skills.
SC Group is highly respected in terms of technical design skills and its ability to meet various industry standards. Importantly, the company is known for the ability to develop solutions to unusual customer requirements. Supacat had for instance designed and developed the High Mobility Transporter (HMT) in the late 1990’s in order to meet military customer needs for a light‑to‑medium load carrier as part of an Urgent Operational Requirement. Despite the subsequent period of considerable growth, it is worth noting also that SC Group has retained its focus as ‘an innovative design house’ and that despite this being a competitive international industry, SC Group continues to be a market leader in the development of high-mobility vehicles.
As one of the world’s leading organisations specialising in the design and development of equipment able to operate in harsh environments the company prides itself on the passionate and committed team that it has and the skills, expertise, dedication and focus required in order to provide bespoke high value quality products and services to a variety of customers both in the UK and internationally.
Having somewhat outgrown the specific ‘Supacat’ brand and yet making sure that it retained its heritage, SC Group was created in September 2015. The formation of a holding company allows the subsidiary operations to grow and develop joint capabilities while continuing to evolve and provide innovative new solutions to customers.
From defence to civilian; from oil & gas to renewable energy; from nuclear power to mineral exploration, the commitment to high performance, reliability, safety and the environment is not only there for all to see it is in this day and age outside of larger defence companies, remarkable to observe.
Apart from the ‘Jackal’ build programme with Babcock International, SC Group and its Supacat subsidiary have partnered with other international companies. For instance, designed by Supacat, the HMT product is manufactured under licence from Lockheed Martin whose UK division Lockheed Martin UK had acquired HMT Vehicles in 2006. SC Group has been supporting Rheinmetall in Australia for the Risk Mitigation (RMA) of the Land Rover 400 Phase 2 programme and in Britain SC Group and Rheinmetall MAN Military Vehicles have teamed in the Netherlands to offer Dutch-built Supacat Protected Vehicles to the Dutch Army.
CHW (London 13th March 2017)
Howard Wheeldon FRAeS
Wheeldon Strategic Advisory Ltd,
M: +44 7710 779785