The UK government on Monday inked two deals for new aircraft worth £4.7bn with Boeing, the US manufacturer, in moves that revived concerns over Britain’s support for its aerospace and defence industry.
Attending the opening of the Farnborough air show, Michael Fallon, UK defence secretary, confirmed a deal to purchase nine new Poseidon P-8A surveillance aircraft, part of a £3bn package to develop Britain’s maritime patrol capability, and 50 new Apache attack helicopters for the British army, worth £1.7bn.
Both Poseidon and Apache are manufactured by Boeing, which employs 2,000 people in the UK and expects to add a further 2,000 under a long term partner agreement with the British government.
The Poseidon will fill a gap left in the UK’s defences by the last government’s decision to scrap the Nimrod surveillance aircraft in 2010 — one of the most contentious national security decisions of the last parliament.
The Poseidon will “provide significant protection of the UK’s nuclear deterrent and our £6bn aircraft carriers”, said Mr Fallon, adding the new Apache would be an “outstanding” asset “at good value for money for the UK taxpayer”.
The British government has previously been vocal in stressing the need for greater defence investment in the UK by Boeing and others.
But Monday’s announcements fell short of some of the firm commitments to British industry that many in the sector had been hoping for.
Mr Fallon said he wanted support contracts for the new Apache to be awarded to British companies in the future — but avoided articulating exactly what such an arrangement would look like or how it would be negotiated.
“In the longer term, I want these new Apaches to be maintained in the UK, and for UK companies to do most of the work,” he said, highlighting Leonardo Helicopters, formerly known as AgustaWestland, which currently holds the support contract for the UK’s existing Apache fleet.
The Apache deal will mean “long-term sustained jobs in the UK”, said David Pitchforth, managing director of Boeing’s UK arm.
“The vast majority of the training, maintenance, repair and overhaul will be done here over the service life of the aircraft,” he added.
The Ministry of Defence meanwhile stressed that the Poseidon, which is based on the Boeing 737 passenger jet, already supports “several hundred direct UK jobs” and involves British manufacturers in the provision of specialist subsystems.
No commitment has been made for UK companies being given preferential treatment in upcoming contracts to tailor the Poseidon to the UK’s specific needs, however. Some British aerospace companies had been lobbying hard for guaranteed work.
The first two Poseidon aircraft will enter service in 2019 and 2020. The new Apache will begin entering service in 2022.
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