The Ministry of Defence this week announced that is has awarded a £160 million contract with BAE Systems to update the power and propulsion system for Royal Navy’s six-ship fleet of Type-45 destroyers. The warships have been plagued by a number of at-sea breakdowns due to power failures relating to the operation of the propulsion system in high temperature environments, which the Power Improvement Project (PIP) aims to resolve. PIP is a major conversion and will enhance the resilience of the fleet, replacing two diesel generators with three larger units in each of the six ships, increasing electrical-generation capacity on board. The contract award to BAE Systems is in collaboration with BMT Defence services and Cammell Laird and the physical conversion work will be conducted at Cammell Laird’s shipyard in Birkenhead, sustaining more than 100 jobs. The first of class conversion is expected to complete in 2021, with follow on ships completed during the early 2020s.
Leonardo CEO discusses future of Yeovil helicopter plant
In an interview with Bloomberg this week, Chief Executive Officer of Leonardo SpA, Alessandro Profumo, said that the UK must buy more helicopters from their Yeovil plant if it is to generate an export drive that will safeguard the future of the former Westland factory, which employs around 3,000 people. According to Mr Profumo, sales have been suppressed following a slump in demand from the offshore oil industry, and the site needs ‘British financial backing to ensure continued production’. He said that it is ‘very important to understand what the UK government will do in terms of procurement on one side and export support on the other…it’s difficult to give a guarantee if the products don’t have demand.’ Leonardo currently assembles the AW101 Merlin naval transport and the AW159 Wildcat anti-submarine helicopters at the site, which Mr Profumo said requires further UK purchases or a sustained export effort.
Mr Profumo also suggested that Brexit had strengthened Leonardo’s hand in talks with the UK Government, saying that ‘Brexit is in this perspective positive because clearly the U.K. is focused on industrial activity.’ This plays on concerns that Leonardo could seek to consolidate manufacturing at its Italian or Polish helicopter plants. Leonardo, which acquired the Yeovil business in 2004, has overhauled its helicopter operation amid assembly-line issues and a slump in demand as the lower price of crude causes oil companies to rein in activities. While profit, sales and new orders all fell at the business last year, restructuring is largely complete, Profumo said, while forecasting a pick up over the course of 2018.
Watchkeeper misses Full Operating Capability milestone
Jane’s Defence Weekly this week reported that the Army’s £1.2bn Watchkeeper UAV programme, led by Thales UK, failed to obtain a key flight safety certificate in November 2017. The much delayed programme, originally due to reach full operational capability in 2013, was the subject of a letter from MOD’s Permanent Under Secretary, Sir Stephen Lovegrove, to the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) at the end of January notifying that Watchkeeper had missed its Full Operating Capability milestone and could not be released to service. In the letter, published by MOD in March, Sir Stephen nevertheless reassured the PAC that Watchkeeper can ‘still be deployed operationally without formal Type Certification should the operational imperative warrant it’ and that the programme remains a satisfactory use of public resources and that the programme should proceed.’ The cause was apparently due to the technical flying programme being delayed between March and June 2017 due to investigations into a crash during testing by 47 Regiment Royal Artillery in February last year. An MOD spokesperson told Jane’s that ‘Watchkeeper has flown thousands of hours, supported British troops in Afghanistan and could be sent on operations now if required. The release to service safety certificate is expected later this year.’ 47 Regiment Royal Artillery meanwhile continues to train and carry out exercises on the platform.
DEFENCE BUDGET: Asked what for MOD’s assessment of the comments by Rear Admiral Alex Burton, former Commander UK Maritime Forces, that without higher spending on defence as a percentage of GDP, the UK’s military credibility and ability to fight and win on the front line will be affected, Defence Minsiter for the Lords, Earl Howe, replied that ‘the commitment to spend at least two per cent of GDP on defence came following a thorough examination of threats and risks, after which the Government decided on an appropriate level of funding. This budget will rise by at least 0.5% above inflation every year of this Parliament. Defence is committed to ensuring the British Armed Forces can continue to make their crucial contribution to Britain's status as a global power and to British security and prosperity. The Modernising Defence Programme aims to modernise Defence, to deliver better military capability and value for money. This will involve reviewing the capabilities that we require to address the threats that we are facing, both now and in the future.’
F-35 LIGHTNING: Asked what estimate MOD has made of the cost of upgrades to the F-35 in the next seven years, defence procurement minister, Guto Bebb MP, replied that ‘the F-35 future development programme will see the aircraft upgraded from the baseline capability standard (Block 3F) to the first agreed set of new capabilities (Block 4). The F-35 Joint Program Office is currently determining the scope of this development programme and its associated cost. The UK's contribution will be around 4.5% of F-35 Program common upgrade costs, from which the UK gains 100% of the benefit. Approval for upgrade funding will be sought at the appropriate points in the programme.’
AIRBORNE EARLY WARNING: Asked when MOD plans to run a competition to replace the RAF’s airborne early warning aircraft, Mr Bebb answered that ‘no decision has been made with regard to the future delivery of the UK's Airborne Warning and Control capabilities, although a range of options are being explored. I am withholding details of the level of funding allocated for the future delivery of the RAF's Airborne Warning and Control System as releasing them would prejudice commercial interests.’
MEDHANISED INFANTRY VEHICLE: Asked how many expressions of interest his Department has received on the supply of the future Mechanised Infantry Vehicle, Mr Bebb replied that ‘The Ministry of Defence has not received any Expressions of Interest. In 2016, it did conduct market analysis of the supply base for 8 x 8 Mechanised Infantry Vehicles via Defence Contracts On-Line; eight organisations returned questionnaires.’