FARNBOROUGH OPENS WITH SIGNS OF A DOWNTURN PART 2
By Julian Nettlefold
21 Jul 08. Seasoned BATTLESPACE readers will remember the same headline at the last Farnborough! For our readers a downturn is a downturn in defence spending and not the civil aviation spend which continued after Farnborough 06 but which screeched to a halt this year as the Reuters Report showed. We were told in 2006 that defence issues had been put on the back-burner to prevent the Campaign Against The Arms Trade from targeting Farnborough. But, in reality, certainly this year, there was a dearth of defence news with Baroness Taylor coming all the way down to announce a £74 million order, one which our colleagues at DR&A say was inflated in any event! What she did not reveal was that the vital Support Contract for Rolls Royce to support the Tornado RB199 engine due to be signed in June had not been renewed. Does this signal plans to mothball the older Tornados as they are not suitable for Afghanistan and their airframes in a questionable state? Stories in the Times today of more flights using simulators to save fuel could point the way forward. The fact that the EP08 Budget has not been finalised and continued doubts over Typhoon Tranche 3 remain, there was little to be said.
But it goes deeper, clearly we have a Prime Minister who has no interest in defence issues as his history as Chancellor and PM signal. He made it clear that he would not visit Farnborough in spite of Lord Jones’s rearguard action trumpeting the defence export figures and the vital need to keep this UK capability. But Gordon’s enmity for the arms trade has also, it seems, infected a greater proportion of the population. In earlier years the BBC would have put on a number of Programmes about Farnborough hosted by Raymond Baxter and others praising the aerospace industry – this year – nothing (correct me if I misread my BBC listings)! But this enmity for the defence industry, where much of the vital R&D takes place to flow into the civil sector, is affecting the prospects for jobs and the future of the industry. If Government does not see it as a central growing industry, then it is not one for a student to go in to. Enquiries we get at BATTLESPACE about careers all signal a wish to go into Formula 1.
But, one country’s loss is one country’s gain – Italy. Visitors to Farnborough this year were greeted to a sea of red tents and flags, which in previous years would have signified BAE’s presence. Not this year, pride of place went to Finmeccanica, with BAE’s presence very muted. With all the bad press over Saudi and a new CEO coming to the Company and with no Government support to defend the Saudi questions, which after all was a Government-to –Government Contract, BAE played it safe and mainly advertised on buses and bridges with a small press presence. A shame as it had developed, mainly with PV money, an excellent range of UAVs with advanced technology over its competitors (See: BATTLESPACE FARNBOROUGH NEWS Vol. 7 Issue 1, 17 July 2008, FARNBOROUGH 2008 NEWS, BAE SYSTEMS AND UK MOD ANNOUNCE MANTIS UAS DEMONSTRATOR PROGRAMME). Not a word from Baroness Taylor about this in her speech? Would it upset the Thales Watchkeeper team in their multi-story chalet?
Back to Finmeccanica. Some ten years ago the Italian Government decided that defence and aerospace would be a central plank to rejuvenate the Italian economy at the same time as our Government decided the opposite! Italy needed a national champion to vie with the growing partially state-owned Thales and thus Italy decided to build its own defence champion on the back of its Finmeccanica Company. The first Farnborough where the Company showed its credentials was in 2004 where the Press Conferences were given in a mix of Italio-English with many Italians chattering in the background! However a plethora of pretty girls took away the pain! Last Farnborough was much more professional but nothing compared to this year. But, lookin