Lancashire’s aerospace sector is set to enjoy ‘exciting times’ as new projects prepare for take off
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Thousands of engineering, software and other support jobs across the county are sustained by the aerospace expertise rooted in the area with BAE Systems providing the anchor and at the same time setting the course for decades of future employment.
Ian Muldowney, chief operating officer at BAE Systems Air, said that following the Ministry of Defence’s announcements of £2.35bn for a new radar for Typhoon and the work to start on a new combat aircraft’s flying prototype, 2022 was set to be the start of an exciting time.
He was speaking at the Farnborough International Airshow, where the company was showing off its latest developments designed to keep the RAF at the cutting edge of defence.
The show featured the latest digital cockpit and helmet displays, developmental work on the Future Combat Air System including the Tempest 6th Generation aircraft, new drone and electric air vehicle technology, and the latest projects to keep the RAF stalwart Typhoon flying for decades to come.
Mr Muldowney, who himself started at the firm as an apprentice 27 years ago, said: “The announcement of the contract on the next stage of radar capability for Typhoon with Leonardo will see a lot of that systems engineering done at Warton going forward. There are a lot of skills involved, which reinforces the need to build our pipeline of new apprentices to keep it all moving forward.
"The capability of Typhoon will be reinforced and since the unfortunate events since February 24 in Ukraine, Typhoon is now experiencing a workload its never seen before.”
He said it meant aircraft here in the UK, in Eastern Europe, in the role against ISIS in the Middle East and even down in the Falklands were working harder as were Britain’s allies in Europe to create that protective wall against further Russian threats.
"It’s still the backbone of the RAF due to its multi-role capability and with the announcement form the Ministry it will continue to evolve. That is built on by what the Secretary of State announced in the House of Commons for the demonstrator of Tempest that will fly within the next five years. That is going to be a super-sonic platform designed developed and integrated in the North West of England.
"The supply chain alone – will be somewhere around three to five hundred suppliers in the UK, a lot of those companies will be in the North West. The Typhoon sustains about 20,000 jobs annually directly and indirectly, which is massive for eth Lancashire economy, and that will be replicated with Tempest.
"The RAF say it will be in service by 2035 and Typhoon will operate parallel to that as FCA s builds up its capability.
More Typhoon aircraft have recently been ordered by Spain to replace its ageing F18s and also Germany is to increase its Typhoon fleet, and he said there was still possibility of new orders around the world, with much of the work on parts being carried out in Lancashire.
"The big thing for us in the near term is the radar capability announcement. That will protect some of the high end high tech skill sets that we have at Warton and Samlesbury.”
Test flights of the new radar are likely to take place in the next 12 months over the skies of Lancashire.
On the new FCAS programme, to build the UK’s new 6th Generation, stealth, combat aircraft (Tempest) and its related systems such as drones, he said it was important that it successfully gets through its next gate review in 2024-25, because on the back of that the company will be able to launch into a full scale design and development programme.
"The work we do now over the next three years and the evidence we build up in industry is critical to support the MOD and RAF and to convince broader Government and the tax payer that it is the right thing to do.
This would be done using the latest technology to build aircraft cheaper and faster than ever before and step changes in the way aircraft are built.
He said the Tempest, developed with partners Italy and Japan, will have a range of capabilities based around dominance of the air and its technology would be generations ahead of aircraft flying now but would build on the back of the upgrades to Typhoon.
He said that was vital to deal with the leaps in technology seen even now and the developments being made in China and Russia at the moment.
While he said a full sized mock up had been built to show what Tempest might look like, and a full sized front fuselage made using new digital techniques was on show at Farnborough, the final design could look different, but ultimately it would be a larger aircraft than Typhoon.
Although piloted air systems were the cornerstone of the company’s products it was also developing un-crewed aircraft in parallel, working with other partner engineering firms. The key was developing the technology and engineering skills of the future and BAE Systems has partnered with several universities to build academic strength.
The future work and expertise here in Lancashire gives the Government the choice to have critical sovereign capability on defence rather than just buying off the shelf from other countries.
"We, in Lancashire, are the heartbeat of the sovereign combat air capability of the UK and although we partner with other nations it is important to retain those skills.”