Docstoc

Defence firms seek broader agenda

Document Sample
Defence firms seek broader agenda Powered By Docstoc
					18 November 2012 Last updated at 16:17 GMT By Nick Childs Defence and
security correspondent, BBC News Ellsworth Mountains in Antarctica A
number of defence and aerospace companies have begun to explore how they
could apply their skills to help with global challenges like energy
shortages, the environment and natural disasters. But is this just a
potentially lucrative new market to compensate for stagnating defence
budgets?

This week some of those involved in the initiative gathered at a
conference in London. One of the instigators, Nick Cook, a former
aerospace journalist who now runs a company called Dynamixx, explained
how he latched on to the idea.

"It was patently obvious to me that the aerospace and defence sectors had
technologies which operated in all segments of the eco-sphere from sub-
sea to space," he said. "So why should they not know about the
environment and how to go about tackling some of the particularly big
problems encapsulated by climate change?"
Satellite image of Storm Sandy over the US Storm Sandy battered the US,
but could defence firms have helped?

It is not new for defence companies to be looking at, for example,
alternative power supplies, or for aerospace companies to be developing
more fuel-efficient engines. But the intent of this initiative is clearly
to take things a lot further.

Recently, five of the major defence and aerospace companies - US firms
Lockheed Martin, Raytheon and Northrop Grumman, and Saab and Finmeccanica
from Europe - signed up to a statement promising to look at co-operation
to tackle what they called "global challenges", that could include
renewable energy, climate change, and disaster relief. Of course, just
what that will mean in the end is another matter.

Among the technologies that might be of use are satellite surveillance,
long-range drones to plot the impact of ice melt, and robust command and
control systems to help communities cope with natural disasters. The
Vice-President for Research and Innovation for Raytheon, John Zolper,
points to his company's involvement in air traffic control systems.

"We're in the process of taking those systems and making them
transportable and deployable in a rapid response situation," he said. "In
a day you could set up a completely new traffic control system wherever
needed."
Island benefits?

There is, of course, a potentially significant economic incentive.
Defence spending globally is still growing. But Western defence budgets
are stagnating or declining, and the global market is getting more
crowded. On the other hand, it has been estimated that the market for
global infrastructure development could amount to $40 trillion (£25trn)
over the next 25 years.
Northrop Grumman Global Hawk drone, file image Northrop Grumman makes
drones, but believes its expertise could be put to other uses
To the sceptics, this is just companies seeking new sources of revenue as
their traditional markets falter. There are questions over whether it
risks militarising the environment and development agendas. And there are
plenty of other innovative industrial sectors which might be more
appropriate.

"There is money in it, clearly," acknowledges Mr Cook. "But the most
fundamental reason we're asking them to engage is because we think they
have solutions to offer, particularly in the way they bring big systems
together, that no other sector can do."

Mr Cook suggests the defence and aerospace companies could offer
technology that could have helped even a major city like New York to have
coped better with the recent super-storm Sandy. This could include
mapping and sensing techniques to spot areas most vulnerable to flooding,
and portable power systems to overcome blackouts.

For smaller, more vulnerable states, disasters like Sandy mean not just
chaos, but governments and societies collapsing for a period, and high-
tech industrial help could be valuable. "There must be a way to have that
experience incorporated," says O'Neil Hamilton, a Jamaican diplomat
currently at the Stimson Center in Washington.

These companies could have an effect, he says, particularly on "how
particularly small island developing states like those in the Caribbean
really impact their security arrangements and really have the
security/development nexus benefit from their experience."

It is not just about the big industrial players. Small defence companies
are also especially vulnerable to the cyclical nature of defence orders.
Supacat is a small British engineering company involved with military
vehicles.

Its managing director, Nicholas Ames, says his concerns about the nature
of the defence business drove him to look at new areas. "I've always been
thinking about other sectors we should be looking at with our skills," he
says.

Mr Ames   alighted on the offshore renewable energy sector, because of work
Supacat   had done with Britain's Royal National Lifeboat Institution. "For
my part   I see a whole plethora of marine engineering challenges that are
frankly   being thrown out by these new renewable energy devices."

This may not be a revolution. Many companies already straddle different
markets. Equally, there is clearly still resistance and some scepticism
on both sides of the equation. But this may well be the shape of things
to come.

				
DOCUMENT INFO
Shared By:
Stats:
views:18
posted:11/22/2012
language:
pages:2