Anglo-Italian group Leonardo is banking that a new single entity for its UK business will streamline operations, provide a single voice to customers and boost export potential for its electronics and helicopter capabilities. TIM ROBINSON reports.

 

The new Leonardo MW combined entity pays homage to two legacy companies - Marconi and Westland (RAeS/NAL).

Revealed by Leonardo CEO and General Manager Mauro Moretti on 12 January, the new entity, Leonardo MW Ltd brings together the group's UK divisions; AgustaWestland, Selex ES, Finmeccania UK and DRS Technologies under one roof. The full name Leonardo MW stands for ‘Marconi Westland’ – paying tribute to the famous legacy brands that have designed, manufactured and supported products to the UK armed forces for the past 100 years.

With Norman Bone appointed the new Chairman and MD for Leonardo MW, the company boasts some 7,100 employees in the UK and £2.3bn revenue, with some £1.3bn of this in exports. It also supports a supply chain of around 2,300 firms with the bulk being SMEs. This now makes Leonardo MW second only to BAE Systems in the UK defence industry.   

As well as helicopters, the new UK entity also covers electronics, sensors and radars, defensive aids, as well as the fast-growing cybersecurity sector. The company provides a healthy chunk of electronics onboard the Eurofighter, including the CAPTOR radar, Pirate IRST and DASS.  More than 50% of the company is involved in electronics, with the company currently designing four fire control radars simultaneously – said Bone – an unprecedented level of activity.   

He also noted that Leonardo MW is ready for long-term innovative partnerships, highlighting its selection for UK’s Mode 5 IFF, (where it partners with AirbusDS) as an example of this. “When you have the breadth of capabilities we have,” says Norman Bone, “companies will want to partner.”

Last year’s Unmanned Warrior exercise, which saw Leonardo platforms and sensors (radar and EW) take part, also provided the “single best example of Leonardo working together” says Bone when a SW-4 Solo optionally piloted helicopter UAV was trialed with SelexES's Osprey radar.

Future of Yeovil

Leonardo MW will support UK Wildcats in the Wildcat Integrated Support & Training (WIST) deal. (MoD)

While prior to EU referendum vote, there were concerns over the potential negative effects of Brexit on Leonardo’s UK helicopter factory at Yeovil, the integration into Leonardo MW provides a strong commitment to invest and grow its business in the Britain.

In particular, Leonardo stresses that it is the only true UK company able to provide end-to-end capability in military rotorcraft from design to support – with the key IP (intellectual property) kept on-shore in the UK.

Responding to questions about the future of Yeovil post-Wildcat and AW101, Bone pointed out that existing customers will need support and upgrades to AW models in service. Additionally Yeovil has the potential to become a centre for 'unmanned opportunities' in the future. Indeed, the press conference followed an earlier announcement that the company has won a £271m five-year contract to provide support and training to the UK MoD for RN and British Army Wildcat helicopters, having delivered the 62nd and last Wildcat to the UK last month.        

Export interest

Next generation missile threats means Leonardo MW's BriteCloud its attracting strong international interest. (Leonardo)

Leonardo believes that the new integrated organisation, with a single voice, will also help drive exports and support the Government’s prosperity agenda. For example, Osprey AESA radar won a key US Navy contact last year to equip the MQ-8C FireScout UAV – a significant win, given the highly competitive US defence market.

Meanwhile, its BriteCloud next-generation expendable active decoy – set to replace chaff and flares on fast jets is already being tested by the RAF. Export interest in this system, says Bone, is 'intense' with potential market of up to 4,000 fighters.

Additionally, despite the uncertainty in European circles over the incoming President Trump, CEO Moretti noted that his desire to make European NATO members pay their own way for defence could make for an opportunity for suppliers like Leonardo.

Investing in skills

Meanwhile, Leonardo says that it will continue to invest its UK skills base (with over 400 people on its graduate and apprentice schemes) but also that the new organisation will provide an even more attractive employer. For example, in the future, rotorcraft apprentices could switch over to defence electronics, or vice versa as part of their training. Swapping apprentices or graduates to other areas is not just interesting for the workers involved, but this cross-fertilisation is also extremely useful for the company itself – particularly in harnessing and exploiting innovation    

 ATR - time for a new airliner?

An ATR 72-600 on a demo tour of the US. But is it time for a new airliner? (ATR)

Group CEO Moretti also shared his thoughts on Leonardo activities outside the UK – in particular with its turboprop partnership with Airbus under ATR.  While the partnership has been a fruitful one, Moretti suggested that ATR needs to launch a new ATR 72 model immediately, or face abandoning customers. Additionally, he said that work needs to start on developing a new 100-seater model. This would not just be a regional passenger aircraft but also have utility as a cargo and even a military multi-role aircraft.  

Leonardo is also working on a new attack helicopter for the Italian Army – which will replace the A129 Mangusta. A €487m contract signed on 14 January for a new exploration and escort helicopter (NEES) will see Leonardo develop three prototypes and one production level helicopter by 2015.    

Summary

The future? Leonardo AW-4 Solo UAV with Selex ES sensors taking part in Unmanned Warrior 16. (Royal Navy) 

This revamp then is welcome news for those concerned about the UK aerospace and defence sector, post-Brexit  – with a commitment to invest in onshore skills, R&D and protect UK-developed IP. Furthermore, putting electronics and rotorcraft under the same roof gives Leonardo MW the advantage of being able to more closely integrate and optimise sensors and platforms – particularly for the evolving unmanned rotorcraft market. Digital and other upgrades to existing platforms too are aslo likely to keep Yeovil busy in the future. And, if a new US President focuses minds on boosting European defence capabilities - this too represents an opportunity for companies such as Leonardo MW. With electronics (including cyber and sensors) and rotorcraft platforms as its core going forward – Leonardo MW is now one of the UK’s largest high tech engineering companies.

Tim Robinson
17 January 2017