UK makes a world of difference for Boeing
David Pitchforth, Boeing Defence UK managing director, talks to Claire Apthorp about how his company wants to be seen as more global and less American.
Boeing Defence UK has been a major supplier to the MoD for the past 75 years, during which time it has provided and supported some of the armed forces’ most critical platforms and equipment.
But, despite its enduring presence in the defence community and generating significant contributions to the UK economy, by and large, Boeing continues to be seen as a US company – something David Pitchforth is on a mission to change.
“Over the last decade, Boeing has enacted a major strategy to become a truly global business as it enters its second century, and what we are doing here in the UK is right on the front edge of that,” he said.
“Defence is one of the areas that is being pushed under that strategy the hardest, and a lot of effort has gone into growing the MoD-Boeing relationship beyond an import-export model by building up a strong local presence with Boeing Defence UK.”
Having joined the company in January 2009 and been at the helm of Boeing Defence UK since December 2012, Pitchforth actively appreciates that doing business with the MoD in a way that suits the customer is about working in partnership, something that he will continue to promote down the line.
“To be partners you need to be local, and our rapid, organic growth here reflects that – we have grown from a few hundred employees to now having 2,000 Boeing people in the UK, more than half of whom are in defence,” he said. “We are looking to grow those key skills and capabilities we need to be a ‘real’ UK business – for example, we have recently added our own flight crews and test pilots in the UK and strengthened our engineering organisations.”
Partnership is a word that Pitchforth uses often, especially when talking about the UK supply chain.
“In this business you are all things to all people, sometimes the customer, sometimes the vendor, and sometimes the partner,” he said. “The UK has a very good supply chain and a strong aerospace and defence sector, and that is something that as a nation – as partners – we need to protect.
“We need to keep investing in those skills and technologies because, if you look at the UK – and increasingly, the western world – the amount of technical staff we are qualifying is a lot less than what is happening elsewhere, so we are going to have to focus on that.”
Retaining a competitive edge in what is now a global supply chain goes hand-in-hand with this.
“One of the things we need to look at is how competitive our UK supply chain can remain in the future,” Pitchforth said. “We are now in a global supply chain so all suppliers, regardless what size we are, have got to keep looking for ways to add to productivity, to keep improving, and keep adding to the technology and capability available in the UK – and that means not just focusing on the high-tech things, but all of it – look at what we’ve got and make sure we are retaining and defending it.”
Partnerships also play a major role in the work Boeing Defence UK does in delivering on some of the country’s major defence programmes.
The company has worked in partnership with Vector Aerospace (formerly the UK MoD Defence Aviation and Repair Agency) since 2006 on the UK’s Chinook through-life customer support (TLCS) programme. This provides heavy maintenance, engineering technical support, supply chain management, including spares forecasting and procurement, aircraft and component repairs, and modification services on the UK’s MK2/2A/3 Chinook helicopter fleet.
Boeing assumed overall full supply chain responsibility for the fleet in 2007 and, since then, has increased fleet availability while incorporating capability upgrades and repairs.
Additionally, the company is currently working as part of an industry team to develop a new digital cockpit solution for a batch of 14 MK6 Chinook aircraft being acquired by the MoD.
Boeing Defence UK has also provided integrated operational support (IOS) for the MoD’s Apache AH-MK.1 attack helicopters as part of a team led by AgustaWestland since a contract award in October 2009.
As the helicopter’s design authority, Boeing provides a wide range of technical services to assist with the operation and maintenance of the aircraft, with the company’s rotorcraft support team in Yeovil and East Anglia having reach-back to the Apache worldwide support organisation in the US. Boeing has responsibility for delivering spares, performing repair and overhaul work, and leads design integration support for mission/theatre specific equipment.
The company also works as a delivery partner on the UK’s support chain information services (SCIS) programme (formally known as future logistics information services) under a £700 million 10-year contract signed in 2010. The partnering arrangement between Boeing Defence UK and the MoD aims to improve the reliability and capability of the logistics information systems and services that deliver engineering, supply chain and business intelligence information.
Boeing’s work on this programme has seen the streamlining and optimisation of end-to-end logistics information systems into an agile and effective capability that underpins the support chain. The next phase will see continued modernisation of the IT and focus on transforming the information services within the base inventory-warehousing environment.
With the government’s strategic defence and security review (SDSR) setting the scene for the coming years, Boeing Defence UK is looking to strengthen its own competitive position in the market.
“The common theme is very much ‘more for less’, so the ability to prove value-for-money and show how you are going to continue to improve across the life of a programme will be central to good business models going forward,” Pitchforth said. “We have some large programmes under way delivering capability for the MoD and we are very focused on maintaining our ability to support the RAF, in particular, as it moves towards its ‘whole force’ concept and assesses its staffing requirements for the future.”
The SDSR is just one aspect of what Pitchforth considers to be an interesting time in the UK defence industry. Movement on the Defence Equipment and Security (DE&S) restructure programme, as the MoD seeks to change its procurement processes, is good news for the government and good news for industry.
“As they move forward into how they manage procurement, one big thing – and it’s definitely coming – is the importance of getting things done more quickly,” Pitchforth said. “Time is a huge driver of cost and if you delay in the aerospace and defence industry your costs rise far more quickly than inflation. We’re seeing that the MoD is diving into how to do things more quickly.”
Part of this – and something that Pitchforth welcomes – is the cohesion and clarity the MoD seems keen to project on what it wants from industry as it moves forward.
“Having been involved in the last SDSR, it is clear that this one has been far more pan-government; we see lots of discussion across the whole of government, and that is encouraging,” he said. “What we are really looking for is that clarity, because the clearer they can be with their plans, the better industry will be positioned to be able and willing to put in place the investment, constructs and business around what they have decided.”
That said, Boeing’s unique position in the UK defence industry also provides it with the ability to see the big picture from an outsider’s perspective – and there is a lot here to be proud of.
“Our armed forces are highly respected around the world for what they do with the equipment they have,” Pitchforth said. “The UK is seen to be very innovative with its contracting, so while we tend to beat ourselves up about it, we really are seen to be very efficient.”
Above: David is on a mission to change perceptions.
Boeing Defence UK is currently working to consolidate the way it does business in Britain and this is something it will continue to build on as it looks to the future.
“Historically, there have been lots of contact points from the UK to the US, and one of our reasons for being here is to stop that and make sure our service is very focused and managed by a local team.”
The company is also focused on expanding its training footprint within the UK market, building on its existing work at its C-17 International Training Centre at the FlightSafety International facility in Farnborough.
“Increasingly customers want to buy a capability where one organisation does the majority [of the work],” Pitchforth said. “Training is a big part of that and we have set up a new division here where we want to recapture some things that we have allowed to get into other peoples’ hands. Additionally, we have set up an organisation for non-platform-related training.”
In the near term, the company will also be looking at areas in Boeing’s sweet spots – fixed-wing, network and space systems, and logistics information support – to expand capabilities and improve performance for the MoD.
From a technology perspective, the company is pushing into manufacturing technologies and what it can do with data analytics.
“I’m very proud of the growth we’ve had – both in people and in business,” Pitchforth said. “We’re still small compared to some of our peers but we’re still growing here and we’re here to stay – I think we have some great projects to offer in the future, not just in defence but also in security and in network and space systems as well.”