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Timely Reminders of Crucial Role That Defence & Security Can Play Supporting UK Economic Recovery By Howard Wheeldon, FRAeS, Wheeldon Strategic Advisory Ltd.





Under the title ‘Defence is the best form of attack for our challenges’ an article written by BAE Systems CEO Charles Woodburn and published in the Daily Telegraph today is a timely and important reminder that important challenges faced by the UK government before coronavirus including the need to deliver on the ‘Global Britain’ and levelling up agendas along with reversing a long-running decline in manufacturing, are very much still with us and that these are now compounded by rising unemployment and record levels of national debt.

A crucial part of the Charles Woodburn message is that UK defence and security sector companies can [and will] continue to play a key role supporting UK economic recovery, ensuring that we retain the necessary critical skills and capabilities required in order to be in control of defence and security and in playing a leading role in future defence and security exports.

The Government will shortly outline future foreign policy ambitions in the Integrated Review process and future defence and security requirements will be fully aligned within this and the hope is that the importance and relevance of UK defence sector companies, the role that they play in employment, training, retention of skills, creating innovative new technologies that the UK needs and in recognising the importance that they play within the overall UK economy and prosperity agenda will be better recognised. 

Two years ago, in response to a request from the then Secretary of State for Defence, Philip Dunne published his ‘Growing the Contribution of Defence to UK Prosperity’ paper, one that was well received by the defence community as a whole, by industry and by government.

Defence helps boost our prosperity and as his report Philip Dunne emphasised the vital role that defence plays in underpinning UK economic prosperity and that along with the many hundreds of thousands of people directly or indirectly employed, Defence is collectively one of the largest and most consistent developer of skills across the economy. 

In his Daily Telegraph piece Charles Woodburn highlights that ‘few areas of Government spending deliver such impactful economic returns as defence and that it is only by huge technology and innovation related investments such as those  currently being undertaken by companies such as BAE Systems that the UK will be able to create the ‘huge reservoir’ of highly skilled people and expertise required for the future and that will enable the UK economy to emerge stronger, fitter and better placed to face future challenges’.

Citing as one example the UK led ‘Future Combat Air System (FCAS) project known as ‘Team Tempest’ [this is a UK led international partnership in which the MOD through the RAF Rapid Capabilities and the core industry members, BAE Systems, Rolls-Royce, Leonardo UK, MBDA UK have this year been joined by QinetiQ, Thales UK, GKN, Collins Aerospace, Martin Baker and Bombardier] together with the Dreadnought nuclear submarine development for the MOD as examples of innovation led investment and development, the Charles Woodburn article is timely, relevant and hugely important particularly in the context of how BAE Systems is investing in a wide range of innovative digital and other state of the art future technologies but also in serving to remind government that companies within the UK defence sector employ in excess of 130,000 people, 5,000 plus apprentices and that in the process, they are supporting many thousands of smaller companies and their employees right across the supply chain.

My view remains as it always has – that the UK Government needs to take far greater cognisance of the importance and relevance of the UK defence sector, of defence exports and of the vital importance ensuring that the UK retains the sovereign capability that it needs today and will increasingly need in the future.

Innovation has always been at the heart of everything that BAE Systems does and in demonstrating how the company is investing for the future, responding and continually adapting to the ever-changing needs of national defence and security, the Woodburn article is as important as it is also timely and relevant.

‘Defence is the best form of attack for our challenges’   – Charles Woodburn – CEO BAE Systems

The events of this past year mean we are living through a period which none of us imagined; this terrible pandemic has wrought havoc on countless lives and livelihoods around the world.

The big challenges facing our Government before Covid-19 – delivering on the Global Britain and levelling up agendas, while turning the tide on the long-term decline in manufacturing – remain and are now compounded by rising unemployment and record levels of national debt.

As General Sir Nick Carter, the Chief of the Defence Staff, said last week, history shows that financial crises often lead to security crises.

When it comes to our health, the economy and security, the challenges are indeed daunting. However, the defence and security sector can play a key role in supporting this country’s economic recovery, while ensuring we retain the critical skills and capabilities to be in control of our own defence and security.

Few areas of Government spending deliver such impactful economic returns as defence. Export sales of more than 1,000 Hawk aircraft have delivered more than £16bn to the UK economy from the Government’s initial investment of £800m.

The UK Government has invested £12bn in the Eurofighter Typhoon, and export sales alone have doubled that return to the UK economy, with the potential for more to come.

Defence industrial cooperation also underpins diplomatic relations with our allies, as seen with recent warship exports to Australia and Canada.

So, we have a responsibility to step up and deliver. Not just in aircraft, ships and submarines – which we have continued to do – but also through investment in jobs, skills and innovative technology which will support our long-term growth.

The UK defence sector employs more than 130,000 people and supports around 5,000 apprentices in large organisations like BAE Systems, but also in thousands of smaller companies across our supply chain.

The sector’s footprint reaches all parts of the UK, with tens of thousands of jobs in Scotland and the North of England driving prosperity across our country and supporting the critical levelling up agenda.

We’ve recruited almost 800 apprentices this year, with the first joining our company this month, and we’re hiring around 250 graduates.

As we ramp up work on major programmes based in the north, like the Tempest future combat air system and Dreadnought nuclear submarines, we will need to recruit even more people. Despite these challenging times, such programmes create highly skilled job opportunities and the chance to contribute to our nation’s defence and security.

In an unpredictable world, it’s critical that industry continually pushes the boundaries of technology. We need to ensure that the capabilities we deliver equip our Armed Forces and security services to defend against the increasing complexity and volume of threats in a modern, multi-domain battlespace which crosses maritime, land, air, space and cyber.

At a time of unprecedented economic challenges, the Government will have to make tough decisions. It’s more important than ever that we find new ways of designing and building military equipment to ensure these capabilities, which are essential to our national security, are adaptable and affordable.

Tempest is a great example. BAE Systems, Rolls-Royce, Leonardo and MBDA are working together with the Royal Air Force to design and develop a future combat air system that will be both cutting-edge and cost-effective. This critical partnership will ensure that the UK maintains its position at the forefront of the combat air sector and that our Air Force is capable of tackling and defeating the rapid technological advancements being made by our adversaries.

Together, and working closely with our trade unions, we’ve continued work on Tempest throughout the pandemic with the support of more than 1,800 people, including hundreds of apprentices. We will increase the size of this team to more than 2,500 by next year, providing job opportunities at all levels at this critical time in the country’s economic recovery.

We’re investing in game-changing digital technologies and skills, reaching beyond the traditional defence sector to bring the very best in innovation to the project.

The core partners have already engaged with more than 600 suppliers, SMEs and academic institutions across the UK as we drive further advances in areas such as virtual and augmented realities, 3D printing and robotic assembly.

This fresh approach is part of the mission to deliver Tempest faster than previous combat air systems – and at lower cost.

Investment in cutting-edge defence innovation will create a huge reservoir of highly skilled experts in industrial digitisation, artificial intelligence, data analytics, and virtual and augmented reality that are crucial to our future as a leading manufacturing nation.

This will help the UK emerge stronger, fitter and better placed to counter whatever challenges we face in the future.

CHW (London – 5th October 2020) 

Howard Wheeldon FRAeS 

Wheeldon Strategic Advisory Ltd,

M: +44 7710 779785

Skype: chwheeldon



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