Concerns in Westminster are growing about the impact that a string of recent takeovers will have on Britain’s sovereign capability. In recent weeks deals have been agreed by foreign firms to take over two leading UK defence manufacturers – Meggitt and Ultra – despite doubts about the impact such moves will have on the UK’s manufacturing ability. There are fears that it could mean that the next generation of aircraft for the iconic Red Arrows will not be built here in Britain.
Coventry-based Meggitt supplies wheels and brakes for fighter jets used by the Royal Air Force and is the subject of two bids from American firms Parker Hannifin and TransDigm for £6.3 billion and £7 billion respectively. Ultra meanwhile supported coalition forces in Afghanistan and faces a £2.7 billion bid from Cobham, owned by the US private equity house Advent. Already Cobham has acknowledged it could sell Ultra’s forensics and energy businesses, while ‘limited numbers’ of jobs may be lost.
The Red Arrows are due to upgrade their fleet in the next few years, having flown their current Hawk aircraft since 1979. Defence procurement minister Jeremy Quin last month confirmed that the planes’ out of service date remains 2030, with a decision on a replacement model not expected until 2023 at the earliest. BAE Brough, the site which previously manufactured the Hawk aircraft for the RAF aerobatics team, stopped manufacturing jets in 2020, instead switching to purely support and engineering.
It is feared that subsequent takeovers will only make it harder to manufacture replacement jets here in the UK. Advent have ruthlessly dismantled Cobham since taking it over 18 months ago, breaking it up into nine pieces and selling many of them off, including the once-prized air-to-air refuelling business. MPs on the Defence Select Committee have shared with Steerpike their concerns about the recent trend and hope that it will not prevent future Red Arrow jets from being built in Britain.