Read Charles’s comments in full below. Find out more about how BAE Systems has responded to the pandemic here.
The events of this past year mean we are living through a period which none of us imagined; this terrible pandemic has wrought havoc on countless lives and livelihoods around the world.
The big challenges facing our Government before COVID-19 - delivering on the Global Britain and levelling up agendas, whilst turning the tide on the long-term decline in manufacturing - remain and are now compounded by rising unemployment and record levels of national debt. As the Chief of the Defence Staff, General Sir Nick Carter, said last week, history shows that financial crises often lead to security crises.
When it comes to our health, the economy and security, the challenges are indeed daunting. However, the defence and security sector can play a key role in supporting this country’s economic recovery, whilst ensuring we retain the critical skills and capabilities to be in control of our own defence and security.
Few areas of Government spending deliver such impactful economic returns as defence. Export sales of more than 1,000 Hawk aircraft have delivered more than £16 billion to the UK economy from the Government’s initial investment of £800 million. The UK Government has invested £12 billion in Eurofighter Typhoon and export sales alone have doubled that return to the UK economy, with the potential for more to come. Defence industrial cooperation also underpins diplomatic relations with our allies, as seen with recent warship exports to Australia and Canada.
So we have a responsibility to step up and deliver. Not just in aircraft, ships and submarines - which we have continued to do - but also through investment in jobs, skills and innovative technology which will support our long-term growth.
The UK defence sector employs more than 130,000 people and supports around 5,000 apprentices in large organisations like BAE Systems, but also in thousands of smaller companies across our supply chain. The sector’s footprint reaches all parts of the UK, with tens of thousands of jobs in Scotland and the North of England driving prosperity across our country and supporting the critical levelling up agenda. We’ve recruited almost 800 apprentices this year, with the first joining our company this month, and we’re hiring around 250 graduates. As we ramp up work on major programmes based in the North, like the Tempest future combat air system and Dreadnought nuclear submarines, we will need to recruit even more people. Despite these challenging times, such programmes create highly skilled job opportunities and the chance to contribute to our nation’s defence and security.
In an unpredictable world, it’s critical that industry continually pushes the boundaries of technology. We need to ensure that the capabilities we deliver equip our armed forces and security services to defend against the increasing complexity and volume of threats in a modern, multi-domain battlespace which crosses maritime, land, air, space and cyber. At a time of unprecedented economic challenges, the Government will have to make tough decisions. It’s more important than ever that we find new ways of designing and building military equipment to ensure these capabilities, which are essential to our national security, are adaptable and affordable.
Tempest is a great example. BAE Systems, Rolls-Royce, Leonardo and MBDA are working together with the Royal Air Force to design and develop a future combat air system that will be both cutting-edge and cost-effective. This critical partnership will ensure that the UK maintains its position at the forefront of the combat air sector and that our Air Force is capable of tackling and defeating the rapid technological advancements being made by our adversaries.
Together, and working closely with our Trades Unions, we’ve continued work on Tempest throughout the pandemic with the support of more than 1,800 people, including hundreds of apprentices. We will increase the size of this team to more than 2,500 by next year, providing job opportunities at all levels at this critical time in the country’s economic recovery.
We’re investing in game-changing digital technologies and skills, reaching beyond the traditional defence sector to bring the very best in innovation to the project. The core partners have already engaged with more than 600 suppliers, SMEs and academic institutions across the UK as we drive further advances in areas such as virtual and augmented realities, 3D printing and robotic assembly. This fresh approach is part of the mission to deliver Tempest faster than previous combat air systems – and at lower cost.
Investment in cutting-edge defence innovation will create a huge reservoir of highly skilled experts in industrial digitisation, artificial intelligence, data analytics, and virtual and augmented reality that are crucial to our future as a leading manufacturing nation. This will help the UK emerge stronger, fitter and better placed to counter whatever challenges we face in the future.