Billboards at Westminster Tube station are a good indicator of when big defence contracts are up for grabs. In recent years, Boeing has plastered the station with posters hailing the American aerospace giant’s role in “building a stronger UK”.
Its PR blitz reflects an eagerness to persuade the politicians who pour through the station of its contribution to the British economy. Last year, as if to underline the point, Boeing opened up in Sheffield — “our first manufacturing site in Europe”. Rivals were sceptical: the South Yorkshire plant employs just over 50.
The UK has provided rich pickings for US defence giants such as Boeing, Lockheed Martin and Raytheon. Civil servants and MPs, under pressure to cut defence costs and stung by procurement blow-ups, have prioritised “value for money”.
More often than not, that has resulted in buying “off-the-shelf” American kit. A country that was once a big exporter of combat aircraft and tanks has become increasingly reliant on overseas equipment, which some fear threatens the UK’s sovereignty.
“It’s easier to count what isn’t American than what is,” said David Lockwood, chief executive of the FTSE 250 aerospace company Cobham, which is being bought by US private equity fund Advent International.
“Almost all our major platforms are American. We don’t have a holistic view at a political level of what we mean by sovereignty.”
Buying American has also left Britain dependent on the US and at the whim of Washington’s geopolitical priorities. Lockheed Martin owns the source codes to the UK’s F-35 jets, giving the Pentagon access to the RAF’s mission data — and, some fear, ultimate control over the aircraft that could prevent the UK taking unilateral action. (Emphasis added—Ed.) “We’ve lost freedom of action,” said a senior defence source. (end of excerpt)
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