The defence industry is a complex and problematical environment, where changing world events and the shifting of international power bases make strategic planning extremely challenging for companies who are reliant on government expenditure on military hardware.
Today, as aerospace giant BAE considers tying the knot with EADS in an age of dwindling public spending, another giant of defence manufacturing, AgustaWestland, appears to have engineered itself a brighter future than most.
The Somerset-based helicopter maker, British arm of the Italian parent operation Finnmeccanica, might have been forgiven until recently for wondering how it would sustain itself without the security of regular government orders.
But its skilled Yeovil workforce should feel a good deal more confident about their future employment now, because they are poised to win tens of millions of pounds of Government Regional Growth Fund cash – which has the potential to transform the company into one of the world’s foremost civil helicopter makers.
The news is a welcome tonic for not only the men and women who work for AgustaWestland but also for the network of smaller – but equally sophisticated – firms that feed the aerospace giant via its high-specification supply chain.
And above and beyond these obvious beneficiaries, the whole region should derive some positives from today’s developments.
But there is little doubt that AgustaWestland’s Yeovil workforce have earned this success. Their skill and application in designing a world-beating helicopter in the Wildcat ‘Super Lynx’ was ample proof that this South Somerset workforce could deliver quality and expertise at the highest level and to the most exhausting of specifications.
The Wildcat deal is worth £1.7 billion to AgustaWestland, and as welcome as those funds are, there is little doubt that a shrinking UK defence budget would have presented the Yeovil firm with major challenges in the years beyond 2016, when the Wildcat production line is due to come to a halt.
Now they have room and time to draw breath – a rare luxury in the fiercely competitive defence industry – and an opportunity to invest, hopefully, in people. While a firm like AgustaWestland can never stand still and must always be improving its technologies, we hope that today’s news proves good for the talented young people entering the job market right now.