This year is an important one for the nation and the aerospace world as it marks 100 years since the first independent air force was formed. We congratulate the RAF in its centenary year and salute its service to the nation’s security and its promotion of UK values throughout the world.
Inevitably as a company very much involved in aerospace, the evolution of BAE Systems in the UK and its predecessor companies has been intertwined with the development of the RAF and the technology the force has needed. Since the early days, with the production of the RAF’s first fighter aircraft — the Sopwith Snipe building on the success of the earlier Royal Flying Corp Camel —and now with Typhoon, BAE Systems has worked side by side with the RAF to provide a sovereign aircraft capability which protects the nation. We are proud that engineers at historic companies such as Supermarine, Avro, Hawker, Vickers, Bristol, English Electric, De Havilland and Marconi designed and built many of the aircraft, radar systems and head-up displays used by the RAF in the past century and we endeavour to continue this innovative spirit.
Today we provide some of the world’s most advanced, technology-led defence, aerospace and security solutions and we continue our long tradition of delivering significant technological, economic and skills benefits to the UK. With a skilled workforce of more than 83,000 people in 40 countries, we work with customers and local partners to deliver military capability, protect national security and keep critical information and infrastructure secure.
Indeed, the UK’s military aircraft industry has consistently had a hugely beneficial economic impact on the UK, beginning with the export of the Airco DH4 aircraft design during the first world war. Subsequently almost 5,000 DH4 aircraft were built by companies in the US. This early export success was followed by the export to 15 countries of the De Havilland Mosquito — the fastest fighter bomber of the second world war. In total 7,781 Mosquitos were built. In addition, the Canberra, first flown in 1949, was built in 27 versions which equipped 35 RAF squadrons and was exported to countries including Australia, Argentina, Chile, Ecuador, France, New Zealand, Peru, Sweden, Venezuela and West Germany. The US company Martin manufactured 403 Canberra as the B-57, and three heavily modified versions of these still remain in service, performing high-altitude meteorological work for NASA.
More recently, the export success of the Hawk jet trainer has resulted in more than 1,000 aircraft built or remaining on order and demonstrates a significant return for the UK government from its investment of £900 million. By 2013 the export of the Hawk aircraft had generated a return of £11.5 billion for the government.
British aeronautical engineering has always been world class, resulting in many firsts, from the first world war Strutter, which incorporated a forward-firing synchronised machine gun, to the Canberra, which could fly at a higher altitude than any other bomber throughout the 1950s. The talent and ingenuity of British engineers has long been the envy of other nations. Pride in technological achievements was never felt more than with the introduction of the Harrier aircraft, the only true vertical/short take-off and landing (VSTOL) aircraft in the world at the time. More than 800 Harrier and evolved versions were built in the UK or under licence overseas. Today, the multi-role Eurofighter Typhoon continues to outperform the best aircraft in its class. Its intentionally aerodynamically unstable design provides enhanced manoeuvrability, greater agility and reduced drag, whilst still being highly intuitive to fly. The Taranis demonstrator flown in 2013 remains the most advanced British military aircraft built to date. Low-observable and with the most advanced unmanned capabilities, the aircraft was built to understand requirements for undertaking sustained surveillance, marking targets, gathering intelligence, deterring adversaries and carrying out strikes in hostile territory.
With 1,600 patents from our UK business alone, technological development remains the essential thread that binds and develops our company. Recently, BAE Systems engineers have developed ‘virtual cockpits’ using mixed and augmented reality. Our Striker® II Helmet-Mounted Display aids pilots by providing fully digital optronics, a full colour high luminance binocular display, active noise reduction and 3D audio. In the manufacturing arena, the company is working together with the universities of Manchester and Nottingham to exploit advanced manufacturing technologies using ‘co-botics’ — how collaborative robots can be managed and work alongside humans.
Throughout the decades, technological developments from the aerospace industry have also been ‘spun out’ of the company to benefit Britain’s wider engineering and technology sectors and accelerated scientific developments in many areas of modern life from cars, buses and trains to mobile phones. For example, radar technologies invented by Marconi (subsequently Marconi Electronic Systems) were developed by engineers at Great Baddow in Essex into satellite technologies which created the means for mobile communications. BAE Systems’ gyro and composite technologies led to the development of airbags in cars and extensive use in the automotive world respectively. Furthermore, BAE Systems’ eight-year technology partnership with UK Sport has benefited more than 30 different Olympic and Paralympic sports and 250 athletes, with technological solutions developed for taekwondo, track cycling, bob-skeleton, wheelchair racing, pentathlon, sailing and short-track speed skating.
Importantly, we also believe BAE Systems and its predecessor companies have made a hugely significant contribution to the development of engineering and technical skills leading to societal change. For decades our apprenticeship programmes have provided the highest quality of training to thousands of young people, giving opportunities for social mobility. In the past few years our work with the Movement to Work programme run by the Prince’s Trust has helped more than 100 previously unemployed young people take up apprenticeships with us. Now our focus has extended to attracting talented women and people from more diverse backgrounds into our organisation as we know diversity of thought produces more creative solutions for an increasingly competitive market.
Of course a lot has changed in the last few decades. But BAE Systems remains a robust and confident business and we continue to fine-tune our operations to become more efficient and offer creative solutions for the RAF to meet the challenges they face.