UK Defence Industry: A Rare Look Behind The Scenes

UK defence industry

With all the fuss over Brexit and other issues, the UK defence industry remains a shining light in the manufacturing sector. While there are several “secret projects” nobody can talk about (just like in the movies), BAE Systems and MBDA opened their doors to The Manufacturer with an invitation to tour their facilities.

In this rare behind-the-scenes look, you will see some of the incredible developments within the UK defence industry. You will find out all you need to about inflatable sea boats, radar systems, microelectronics, missiles and Environmental Stress Screening. Before we get started, let’s take a closer look at BAE Systems and MBDA.

BAE Systems

Looking at their informative website, you’ll quickly notice that BAE Systems is a global defence, aerospace and security company with facilities around the globe. They employ around 85,800 people worldwide in more than 40 countries with products and services covering air, land and sea. They also specialise in advanced electronics, security, information technology and support services.

Here are some of their most recent projects:

MBDA “Centre Of Excellence”

MBDA is a multi-national group with more than 11,000 employees spread across France, Germany, Italy, Spain and the UK with offices in America. They are the only integrated defence company that provides missiles and missile systems for all of the armed forces across air, sea and land. MBDA is a joint venture of the three European leaders in aerospace and defence with Airbus, BAE Systems and Leonardo.

As stated on their website, they provide the following:

  • air-to-air and air-to-surface missile systems for the latest aircraft
  • battlefield engagement with man-portable and air-launched anti-armour weapon systems
  • ground-based air defence with long-range ballistic missiles, stealth aircraft, Unmanned Combat Air Vehicles and cruise missiles
  • maritime developments such as the Exocet, a world-renowned anti-ship missile system
  • advanced naval air defence systems capable of defending against multiple attacks by aircraft and incoming anti-ship missiles
  • electronic and IT subsystems and components

Guided Tour Of The UK Defence Industry

First, we look at the tour of the BAE Systems’ facility showcasing torpedoes, the Pacific 24 Rigid Inflatable Sea Boat (P24 RIB), the Sampson Radar and next-gen electronics.

Torpedoes

We start by looking at the threat deterrents that BAE Systems provide within the subsea domain. There were a variety of torpedoes in different sizes and payloads, all dressed in sleek black. They had the smaller Kingfisher model cut lengthways to reveal the fuse, expulsion charge and submunition. The heavyweight Spearfish torpedo, deployed on Royal Navy submarines, was also on display.

Pacific 24 Rigid Inflatable Sea Boat (P24 RIB)

In 2015, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) awarded BAE Systems with a £13.5m contract for 60 inflatable boats with a top speed of 38 knots, each fitted with shock-absorbing seats. The P24 RIB is the ideal platform for rescue operations, anti-piracy and drugs missions.

BAE Systems also used their own capital to develop an autonomous version of the P24 RIB for the Unmanned Surface Vessels (USVs) programme. These boats can integrate with any Royal Navy Warship’s combat system as demonstrated at this year’s DSEI exhibition on the Type 23 frigate HMS Argyll.

The autonomous P24’s can carry out a variety of missions without much human intervention. They are operational for up to 45 hours at speeds of 100 nautical miles in “pursuit mode” which makes them ideal for anti-smuggling, anti-piracy and fishery protection, among others.

The Sampson Radar

Next on the list of cutting edge achievements from the UK defence industry was the Sampson radar. This engineering marvel is a multi-function, dual-face active electronically scanned array (AESA) sensor which is a common sight on the Type 45 destroyer, purpose-built for anti-aircraft and anti-missile warfare.

The Sampson antenna is made from high-carbon steel and can detect enemy vessels or aircraft as far as 400 km away. It can also track multiple targets at any given time making it one of the most important developments in the UK defence industry.

Microelectronics

BAE Systems are regularly involved in developing various technologies for commercial and military electronics markets. Some of the projects include:

  • flight and engine controls
  • electronic warfare
  • night-vision systems
  • surveillance and reconnaissance sensors
  • mobile networked-communications equipment
  • systems integration
  • environmentally friendly energy-management systems

According to a BAE Systems spokesperson, “We support multiple platforms through their life cycle, ranging from defensive aids, high-frequency seekers to high-accuracy filters for communication. We have invested in developing electronic propulsion for future innovation in our product ranges in order to continue to offer cutting-edge capability to our customers and wider industry.”

Missile Manufacturing At MBDA

The prime inert, or non-live, missile manufacturing site for MBDA is in Bolton. There you will find 700 highly skilled design, engineering and manufacturing personnel responsible research and development. Some of the weapons systems they have worked on are as follows:

  • Brimstone
  • ASRAAM
  • CAMM (Sea Ceptor and Land Ceptor)
  • SPEAR
  • Meteor

In addition to actual missiles, MBDA develops platform equipment for missile launches, industrial electronics and microwave technologies. According to Colin Bain from MBDA, “We are also working on a pan-European Factory of the Future including techniques such as augmented realities and cobot/robotics.”

RF Electronics, Sensors, And Test Chambers

Not many companies are capable of RF (radio frequency) technologies but, at MBDA, its part of the missile manufacturing process and it’s something they take much pride in. They make RF microelectronic hybrids at their Bolton site and want it to become the primary manufacturing location.

Lastly, we look at ESS (Environmental Stress Screening) and RF Anechoic chambers. In terms of ESS, these chambers are common in the military and aerospace sectors to test components for thermal cycling and vibrations. This enables them to force latent defects to manifest during a test phase instead of a live mission which, of course, could be catastrophic.

The RF Anechoic chambers are rooms off the factory floor with walls and doors a few metres thick. They are filled with metre-long pyramid shapes protruding from every surface and applications include testing missile seekers.

Final Thoughts On The UK Defence Industry

Considering the world we live in, it’s important to keep up to date on all the latest technologies and the UK defence industry has certainly done just that. While there are countless other projects and applications, the few we mentioned in this article is testament that the UK defence sector is in a good place. Read the full article from The Manufacturer, “The State Of The UK Defence – BAE Systems and MBDA” for more information.

PRV Engineering And The UK Defence Industry

PRV Engineering has worked within the defence sector for quite some time and while they were initially approached to help develop new products, PRV is now involved in all areas. Some include armour plating for military vehicles, mounts for internal equipment, electronics and electronic circuitry and exterior mounts for ancillaries.

If you liked reading this article, you may find the Black Night Battle Tank and UK’s Futuristic Tempest Combat Aircraft of particular interest. While the latter may not be from BAE Systems or MBDA, it still involves the UK defence industry doing what they can to remain one of the very best in the world.

Contact PRV Engineering if you have any questions or would like more information about their wide range of precision engineering and custom fabrication services. You can also join the conversation on social media using the hashtag, #PRVtech, and remember to follow the blog.