Brexit, UK steel industry, Dyson, the continuing lack of industrial strategy are easy to grab headlines for those seeking to emphasise negativity. It seems to have become almost the ‘norm’ these days to concentrate on the negative and to ignore the continuing strength of UK design engineering and manufacturing skills.
Defence manufacturing along with our huge strength in aerospace, pharmaceutical, specialist engineering, technical skills, automotive design, manufacturing and assembly are all too easily ignored in favour of portraying business and the national economy being primarily about retail, tourism, pubs, restaurants and hotels.
But while it is true that the UK economy tends to be steered by consumer spending and retail it would be wrong to ignore our continuing strengths in engineering and manufacturing. Addressing climate change presents opportunities as well and with car manufacturers gearing up for battery powered vehicles the UK is now actively building battery plants that will required to support the auto industry, albeit that arguably having concentrated on research it is playing catch-up in comparison to some EU countries.
UK innovation continues apace and while there are many issues that need to be addressed – not least of which is, having quietly abandoned the 2017 ‘Building a Britain Fit For the Future’ Industrial White Paper, the lack of a cohesive long-term industrial strategy which, as David Bailey Professor of Business Economics at Birmingham University Business School rightly questions, “why ditch industrial strategy and at a time – post Brexit and with the country looking towards economic recovery from the pandemic – when it is most needed”?
But it isn’t all bad news and despite all the problems faced through the pandemic and immediate aftermath of our leaving the EU, apart from those engaged in commercial aerospace, suffice to say that even without any government industrial strategy or support, engineering and manufacturing in the UK is doing quite well. That goes across most of the remaining supply chain right through to the thousands of small and medium enterprises that have managed to hang on through a period of unprecedented difficulty.
Entrepreneurial spirit remains undaunted and we are fortunate in the UK to be driven by design and engineering success. Whilst it is true that some of those who benefited from all that the UK had to offer have ditched our shores in order to produce their equipment abroad – Dyson being a perfect example – others have despite the potential for risk in the post Brexit arena, continued to invest.
And just look at the successes in military ship and submarine building and indeed, as I highlighted last week in a piece on Rolls-Royce, on UltraFan, the next generation of commercial aircraft engines that will redefine the future of sustainable air travel for decades to come.
Note too that in the past week BAE Systems rolled out the forward section of the first of eight new anti-submarine warfare (ASW) Type 26 frigates the company is building for the Royal Navy – HMS Glasgow – at its Govan, shipyard. Over the coming weeks this will be joined to the aft section and the first of class vessel which is also known as the ‘Global Combat Ship’ will proceed into the final build process.
Supporting more than four thousand jobs across the UK the programme is and will continue to make a significant contribution to the national economy and importantly, in maintaining vital engineering, design and specialist manufacturing skills and capabilities that we as a nation will increasingly need in a fast-changing world. Speaking on the day of the roll out, Simon Lister, managing director of BAE Systems’ Naval Ships business, said:
“The emergence of HMS Glasgow is a very proud moment for everyone involved and is testament to the skills and passion of our workforce. We have now completed the construction of all units of the ship and in the coming weeks our skilled teams will bring the hull together for the first time. The roll out is a huge milestone for the Type 26 programme. It’s evidence of our solid progress in building the first of a new class and presents an opportunity for us to celebrate the progress being made with our colleagues, our suppliers, our customer and the city of Glasgow.”
In other important news this past week BAE Systems launched the fifth of seven Astute-class SSN (Submersible Ship Nuclear) attack submarines at its highly invested Barrow-in-Furness, Cumbria facility. This is another important milestone in a programme that will see the Royal navy equipped with the largest and most advanced attack submarines it has ever had.
Working alongside the Submarine Delivery Agency and Rolls-Royce, BAE Systems is also a member of the Dreadnought Alliance, helping to deliver the UK’s next class of nuclear deterrent submarines that will eventually replace the four Vanguard class vessels that provide the UK’s ‘Continuous at Sea Deterrent (CASD) capability. Two of the four submarines are currently under construction, with the first of these due to enter service in the early 2030s.
Approximately 10,000 people work on the Dreadnought and Astute programmes at the Barrow-in-Furness site and over the next five years the company expect to recruit more than 200 graduates and 1,500 apprentices.
No less important to the design and building of frigates and submarines in the UK supply chain that not only manufactures the steel and fabrications required but also the huge array of highly specialist sophisticated electronic equipment and weapon systems that make the Type 26 stand out as a ship that is in a class of its own. And that success is not just restricted to the UK. For example, in Australia, BAE Systems is building the first of none planned Hunter-class frigates, a design variant of Type 26 Global Combat Ship, for the Royal Australian Navy.
Additionally, the Canadian Government has, through Lockheed Martin which has responsibility for building of the vessels at the Irving Shipbuilding yard in Halifax, Nova Scotia, chosen BAE Systems as designer for the Canadian Surface Combatant frigate programme – a planned 15-ship programme based on the Type 26 Global Combat Ship.
In military aerospace BAE Systems along with Rolls-Royce Defence are continuing to build for the Eurofighter Typhoon export programme and to enhance capability of existing aircraft in respect of radar.
Looking further forward there is ‘Tempest’ the next-generation Future Combat Air Systems (FCAS) manned/unmanned combat aircraft programme which is designed to secure the UK’s position as a global leader in combat air.
Led by the RAF Rapid Capabilities Office working in collaboration with industry partners BAE Systems, Leonardo, Rolls-Royce. MBDA as joint team members and that also includes Saab, QinetiQ, Thales UK, Martin Baker, Bombardier, Collins Aerospace, GKN, GEUK and others including universities and small and medium sized enterprises are engaged and that already employ 1,800 highly skilled engineers and programmers. That figure is likely to rise to over 2,500 this year.
Suffice to say that while there are issues such as lack of industrial strategy and indeed, insufficient government support for UK engineering and manufacturing and despite promises, too little being invested by government in research and development technology, there are many engineering, design engineering and manufacturing success stories to talk about.
And it not all about military surface ships, submarines, military aircraft, commercial and military aircraft engines designed and built by Rolls-Royce or the wings for its commercial aircraft built in the UK by Airbus, it is also about the thousands of small and medium sized companies engaged in the supply chain.
It is also about specialist high performance Formula One racing cars and engine design, manufacturing much of which is done in the UK, other highly specialist auto companies such as a hopefully resurgent Aston Martin, about Ford which builds engines in Dagenham, BMW Mini at Oxford which is investing for the next generation EV’s, investment in battery manufacturing and last but not least, Rolls-Royce Motors, a subsidiary of BMW and which earlier this month announced that it had enjoyed its highest level of first quarter sales in its 116 year history delivering 1,380 cars.
CHW (London – 22nd April 2021)
Howard Wheeldon FRAeS
Wheeldon Strategic Advisory Ltd,
M: +44 7710 779785