Making Things the British Way

Concept Rendering of Dreadnought Class Submarine. Many hundreds of small and medium-size suppliers will be involved in producing these boats.  Image – U.K. MoD

Talk: The Future of Security: Innovation and Growth in the British Defence Manufacturing Sector
Panel Speakers: Oliver Bocking, owner of Signum Intelligence; James Hayward, COO at Overwatch Aerospace; and Matt Young, Head of Engineering and Compliance at Sarkar Tactical.

The “Made in Britain” discussion panel featured three speakers in the British aerospace and defense market who shared insights into the challenges and opportunities they and other small and medium enterprises (SMEs) in the British business space face with localizing production.

Supply chain issues, in particular, were an important element of the discussion, as these undercut the appeal of globalized manufacturing, which aims to deliver lower costs. Rising inflation throughout the developed world in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic has strained business models, given the rising costs of parts. There have also been challenges with parts shortages – such as container ships getting stuck in transit – leaving downstream manufacturers behind on deliveries to their end users.

A related challenge is export approval. Oliver Bocking, owner of Signum Intelligence, highlighted the fact that foreign governments can conceivably deny or revoke access to a particular technology or resource. This presents a vulnerability that can emerge at unexpected times or be linked to political matters.

British manufacturers are taking various steps to address these supply chain troubles, indicating some departures from the “just-in-time” manufacturing model. James Hayward, COO of Overwatch Aerospace, an unmanned aerial system company, made mention of ensuring that there are products “on-the-shelf” so that as orders come in, the company has already produced the solutions that customers are looking for. Matt Young, who heads Engineering and Compliance at Sarkar Tactical, noted that the company will stock resources for production, working hand-in-hand with suppliers to forecast demand.

Re-shoring all elements of the supply chain may not always be possible, but another step is to identify the proximity of manufacture – choosing suppliers that are close helps reduce uncertainties with resource availability. This also shortens transit time, lowering the carbon footprint and helping these companies meet climate objectives. Some resources can be recycled into the supply chain, creating a circular economy while reducing the need for imports from abroad.

The speakers also touched on the subject of innovation. For defense-focused SMEs in particular, it is crucial to have direct contact with the end user, such as a ministry of defense or police force, to obtain information and feedback. Sarkar Tactical produces body armor for security personnel, and Young highlighted the need to interface with the customer to develop solutions that reduce weight and improve flexibility.

Government plays a strong role in encouraging innovation. Hayward noted that oftentimes, defense-focused SMEs are far ahead in technological development, but have to wait for policy and regulation to catch up to set the guidelines for the business space. Thus, for “Made in Britain” – as well as similar initiatives popping up elsewhere in the developed world – it is crucial for the government to be active in supporting its companies.

About Derek Bisaccio

Military markets analyst, covering Eurasia, Middle East, and Africa.

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