Just how far can air forces go in ‘contractorisation', the process of outsourcing services to private companies? And do they risk losing vital capabilities in doing so?

Contractorisation has a way to go yet, believes Sir Charles Masefield, BAE Systems' group marketing director. Talking at a briefing in the run-up to Asian Aerospace, he accepts there is a danger of air arms losing organic capabilities, "but I've never heard of an air force wanting to lose a front-line capability".

Until now contractors have, for the most part, been nibbling round the edges of air arms, replacing minor support services. The process is starting to speed up in certain nations, where governments are keen to devolve capital expenditure and risk to the private sector.

One of the most obviously ‘operational' tasks currently out to tender is for the UK Royal Air Force's aerial refuelling service. Two private consortia - one including BAE Systems - are bidding to supply a fleet of aircraft to handle the RAF's air-to-air tanking requirements.


"It wasn't very long ago that the air force thought they had to own and run everything - all the cooks in RAF messes, firemen, air traffic controller etc," argues Masefield. "Those aren't the people you actually need to go to war with." He accepts that the refuelling contract could be the first deal "to cross that divide".

While tankers are unlikely to be put directly in harm's way, he also agrees there could be a danger of ‘spouse pressure' leading to some tanker crews declining to fly in times of high international tension. He notes that the answer proposed by many is to contractorise "the operation, but not the flight crews".

Turning to one of the main military competitions in which BAE Systems is currently involved with Eurofighter, to supply Singapore with new fighter aircraft, Masefield is highly complimentary about the way in which the host nation has gone about its selection process.

It has carried out an "extremely thorough" capability evaluation of all the competing products and its recommendation to the island state's government will be based very largely on their operational abilities, he says.

Unlike many countries where politics and industrial factors tend to sway choices, the aircraft that will be chosen for Singapore will be the one that best meets its operational requirements and can be fitted into the budget.

Eurofighter will be offered with the full suite of weaponry available to the four nations in the aircraft's consortium, including the Asraam short-range air-to-air missile and the Meteor beyond-visual-range weapon.

Worldwide, BAE Systems sees the European and Middle East defence markets as being pretty flat over the coming decades, with most growth coming in Asia-Pacific as GNPs rapidly rise back to healthy growth levels, and in the US.


BAE Systems has made two major US acquisitions, of Lockheed Martin Controls and electronic warfare specialist Sanders over the past year, says Masefield.

The company aims to continue to grow there, both through organic growth and through further "targeted strategic acquisitions" that fit with BAE Systems' core defence interests.

Source: Flight Daily News