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BAE Systems will be showcasing the breadth of its aerospace capabilities during the Farnborough air show, with chief executive Ian King in optimistic mood about its prospects.

Describing the largest industry gathering of 2016 as “one of the world’s most iconic global aviation events”, King says: “I think this year promises to be just as exciting as it’s always been.”

BAE’s exhibit will as usual be housed within the FIVE building at the far end of the chalet line, with a full-scale replica of the Eurofighter Typhoon acting as the centrepiece. This will be similar to the Phase 3 Enhancement-representative aircraft that BAE test pilot Nat Makepeace will be putting through its paces in the flying display with an expanded fit of air-to-air and air-to-surface weapons.

“Earlier this year we welcomed the signing of the contract between Italy and Kuwait for the supply of 28 Typhoons,” King notes, with the Gulf state following current operator Saudi Arabia and Oman in acquiring the Eurofighter.

“This confirms Typhoon’s position as the most advanced new-generation swing-role combat aircraft available today. We continue to pursue a number of significant opportunities around the world and remain confident that we will sell more internationally,” he says.

But after its no-show at Farnborough 2014, it is the F-35 that will grab many of the headlines at this year’s event. While this is a Lockheed Martin product, its appearance is of huge significance to BAE, which provides around 15% of each aircraft produced through its Military Air & Information and Electronic Systems business units.

“We are a principal subcontractor on this programme and bring military aircraft expertise that is critical to the F-35 Lightning II airframe, systems and sustainment,” King says. “We currently employ around 1,800 people on the programme at various locations across the UK, the USA and Australia. Our advanced manufacturing site in Samlesbury, Lancashire, produces the aft fuselage and vertical and horizontal fins for the whole programme, and a further £100 million [$129 million] investment is being made in manufacturing capability in readiness for increased production rates.

“Our team in the USA provides the electronic warfare suite for the F-35, which includes fully integrated radar warning, targeting support, and self-protection, to detect and defeat surface and airborne threats. BAE Systems Australia also manufactures vertical tail components, and has been assigned the F-35 airframe sustainment role in support of the global F-35 fleet in the southern Pacific.”

Among the other highlights on show this year will be the company’s latest human/machine interface technologies for pilots, including revealing a notional ground control station and simulated mission scenario for a future combat air system (FCAS), which could enter operational service around 2035. In a “Futures Zone”, the company’s scientists “will explain how disruptive technologies including 3D printing, self-healing and cobotic technologies are starting to shape the future of military aircraft”.

Describing the Anglo-French FCAS project as “progressing very well”, King says: “In March we welcomed the announcement by the governments of a new €2 billion [$2.2 billion] project to build an unmanned combat air system demonstrator. This will secure high-end engineering jobs and is anticipated to be contracted in 2017. The very welcome funding will be significant in developing autonomous capability and technologies which will benefit both the UK and France.”

But significantly, he does not believe that such a capability will be able to satisfy all operational requirements.

“I do believe there will be another manned [fighter] programme,” King says. “Unmanned is not a replacement for manned; it will operate in parallel with manned aircraft. There are certain missions that will make use of unmanned, and there are missions for manned. When it comes to the next generation of manned programmes, we will have the capabilities to deliver our customers’ requirements, and that is what our planning is about.”

Meanwhile, King is upbeat about the future of BAE’s Hawk advanced jet trainer, with the type in production at its Warton site in Lancashire for Riyadh and Muscat.

“We are at the start of a multi-year programme delivering two batches totalling 44 aircraft to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, and deliveries to Oman are on schedule to begin in 2017,” he says. “The relationship with India continues to develop. We are currently delivering a second batch of Hawk through our partnership with Hindustan Aeronautics, and we’re in discussions about a third batch. There are also various opportunities to sell Hawk aircraft to our existing customer base and those countries that have refreshed, or are planning to refresh, their frontline training fleet, and we’re developing a suite of services, which includes modifications and upgrades, to develop our in-service support offering.”

Supporting in-service types like the Hawk, Typhoon and Panavia Tornado around the globe is also a crucial part of BAE’s business, King notes. “After sales, servicing and upgrade requirements will continue for many more years, and remain a key part of the group’s activity,” he says. “Over 40% of the group’s annual sales are from military and technical services and support.”

BAE today has operations in four principal markets, which it identifies as having a “significant and sustained commitment to defence and security”.

“These principal markets: the UK, the USA, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and Australia, encourage investment to develop and sustain a domestic defence industry capability,” King says. “The group’s strategy continues to focus on the importance of winning international business, and we have a strong international market presence with well-established relationships, such as in Oman and India.

“BAE Systems will continue to target opportunities in other international markets, including Asia and the Middle East,” he adds – with products like Typhoon and Hawk among those products with continued strong export potential.

Meanwhile, BAE is not expecting any dramatic alteration to the current competitive landscape in the European defence industry. Almost four years after the company and the then-EADS announced plans to merge their activities – a proposal which swiftly collapsed in the face of opposition from shareholders and political misgivings in Berlin, London and Paris – King does not see any potential for such a dramatic meeting of minds and business activities.

“There may be consolidation within some sectors and at a smaller level, but I believe major consolidation is unlikely,” he says, adding: “this is not a focus of our strategy.”

While show-goers will pay considerable attention to the debut Farnborough appearances being made by the fast-selling Airbus A320neo and Boeing 737 Max, King has no regrets about BAE’s past decision to sell its stake in Airbus and focus its attention on the defence sector.

“We have a privileged position in four of the world’s major defence markets, and our core business remains focused on defence and security. We too have a healthy backlog and a consistent and robust strategy to maintain and grow our defence and security businesses and apply our skills and technologies in higher growth commercial markets, such as commercial avionics and cyber security.”

Source: Flight International