The Editor has been travelling to the USA, and the annual AUSA Symposium in particular, since 1984, as a PRO and journalist. There has been one common theme throughout, the support or lack of from HMG and UKTI/ADS, to British Companies exhibiting at the event and in support to export efforts to the US defense market. US Companies exhibiting with the AUSA pavilions have support from a prime such as Boeing or Lockheed PRO to manage media and support, ADS/UKTI has minimal or no presence in this area. One would have thought that the UK would make a maximum effort considering that the USA is the world’s largest market for defense products, but no!
This was brought home to the Editor at the 1987 inaugural COMDEF when he was PRO for lancer Boss lift trucks. Lancer Boss had sent out a pre-show advisory so the media flocked to our stand. The next door Stand asked the Editor why they were visiting Lancer Boss and not their Stand and I asked, “Did you tell them you were coming?” To which the answer was in the negative. The same occurred in 1988 where the Canadian Office for Astra Holdings had forgotten to ask anyone to its suite in the Waldman Towers where a lone waiter was carving meat for no show visitors! Had ADS and UKTI had a proper show support process both thesesproblems would have been identified by proper pre-show planning and support with the help of UKTI/ADS.
In the early eighties the British Embassy had a very strong team of experts such as Roger Harding and Jeff Limbert who smoothed the way for some very large deals such as the L118 Light Gun and 81mm mortar. The Embassy routinely put on a large reception during AUSA at which the great and the good from industry and commerce attended. However, in the nineties something changed, probably budgets over common sense, and the support was cut, the Reception cancelled and the UK pavilion support cut. BATTLESPACE filled the void in 2005 with an event at the Army and Navy Club and in the ensuing years industry held an event at a Downtown DC pub.
The UK Pavilion was heaving in the early 2000s with the excellent Hesco Bastion bar supported by UKTI and ADS, but, for reasons best known to themselves, ADS and UKTI were nowhere to be seen at the final night drinks reception where German, French and Finnish companies were plying Generals and their wives with Jaeger bombs, wine and vodka, where was the whisky and smoked salmon? Nowhere to be seen.
A number of exhibitors had told BATTLESPACE that the cost of attending, some £15000+ was not matched by the support given when they got to the show. BATTLESPACE offered a support service consisting of pre show emails giving details of companies attending, email Updates during the show and a post-show round up for £50.00 per company attending including an Ad in BATTLESPACE. It was politely turned down due to ‘budgetary issues.’
At a meeting prior to AUSA this year at the UKTI offices in London the Editor was told that there would be limited UKTI/ADS attendance at AUSA due to ‘lack of demand from industry.’ Then Brexit happened!
With Dr Liam Fox, Secretary of State for International Trade and President of the Board of Trade, leading the charge in not only criticising the golf-playing industrialists for being too lazy but also trumpeting his new Department for International Trade (DIT). DIT was launched with a whimper rather than a bang, indeed the Editor was only told that UKTI had been subsumed into DIT during AUSA by a US Company! One would have expected a big UK DIT and MoD presence at AUSA 2016 with the accompanying briefings about increasing UK defence exports along with a larger Embassy Reception. But the opposite happened, a reduced ADS UK Pavilion to about six companies, no UKTI presence and a downgraded Reception of 150 people at the Attaches Residence not the Embassy! Drunkenness at the 2015 event was blamed for the reduced numbers! The ratio of US buyers to UK companies was not rvealed but one sourse said it was an old boy’s UK get together!
In contrast to the lackluster UK showing, AUSA 2016 showed an increase of overseas Exhibitors including Australia, Greece, France, Holland, Germany and Canada, some supported by delegations and ministers.
Whilst the bad news about the effects of Brexit continued to become apparent during AUSA it became apparent that the Government continues to ‘buy European’ without looking at local UK firms! Two examples being the steel for the Successor boats, for which they later said there was no UK equivalent supplier and a recent Foreign Office vehicle bid where ‘budget’ was quoted as the reason for not buying British!
The Conservative Conference and Theresa May’s speech in particular heralded the return of the British worker and less immigration but unless the Government gets its act together and actually follows the line of other European countries and the US in buying equipment from indigenous Companies there won’t be any new jobs for British workers!
With crunch time looming for the UK leaving the EU and the single market and the subsequent hit to the economy, Dr Fox and his doughty crew have a lot of road to travel to fill the gap. The fact that no media were asked to the DESO 50th Anniversary celebrations at Lancaster House may be a pointer to the lack of progress! DESO/UKTI/DIT is a shadow of its former self having been dismembered by Gordon Brown and the Labour Administration in 1997. This, and the UK government’s buy ‘anything but UK’ policy and lack of financial support for defence exports, has caused a rapid decline in the British Defence Industrial Base, and the drop in the UK’s standing as atop exporter to an also ran.
The massaged 2015 figures along with the inclusion of security exports has given the illusion of the UK remaining in the top 5 but one only has to look at France’s success with Rafale and submarines to see the real truth. The other worrying factor is that aviation spare parts make up over 50% of exports. With no new aircraft filling the gap when these planes exported in the eighties and nineties leaving service, the figures will drop dramatically. The fact is that the UK has lost the capability in many areas such as radios (Racal, MEL and GEC-Marconi all gone), radars (GEC-Marconi gone to Italy), weapons, armoured vehicles and the doughty Land Rover Defender, for years a stalwart export product, and has not developed the high tech products to fill the gap with the exception of some excellent cyber technology and the Zephyr UAV. The Afghan UOR process would have given industry the capital and capability to develop new products but contrary to the US, France and Germany, most of the UK money went overseas with the residue being sucked in to build two huge aircraft carriers in Scotland, one of which will always be in dock!
Another area of complaint has been the refusal by the UK MoD to publish contract awards, which are public property, rather than subscribe to the expensive Defence Contracts Bulletin, the DIT continues to refuse to an explanation.
We await to see the next bullish announcement from Dr Fox and his DIT Team! No doubt the media will be informed!!