Belfast Telegraph

Missile firm Thales lands £48m deal to help Royal Navy fight piracy

By Clare Weir

Equipment manufactured as part of a £48m deal for a Belfast arms firm will help the Royal Navy fight piracy on the high seas.

The Ministry of Defence has announced that Thales' Future Anti-Surface Guided Weapons Light programme will be fitted to the Navy's new Agusta Westland AW159 Wildcat Maritime Attack helicopters, which will be carried on frigates.

The system is designed to use the Thales Lightweight Multirole Missile (LMM), a precision strike missile designed to be fired from planes, helicopters, trucks, boats and even drones.

The system will be deployed by the Royal Navy and is aimed at combating threats from small ships and fast inshore attack craft.

French-owned Thales employs 450 people in Northern Ireland and 60 staff will work on the new contract.

David Beatty, managing director of the Thales plant in Castlereagh, spoke to the Belfast Telegraph on his way to show off some of the Northern Ireland-made equipment at the Eurosatory defence and security exhibition in Paris.

He said the new order, which was first mooted back in 2009, bodes well for future sales because of the UK's place in the global defence spending tables, and added that there will be support work opportunities for Belfast staff over the lifetime of the weapons.

Mr Beatty added that this was the first such application for the firm's products and that Thales was targeting similar business with other governments.

"This is the biggest order placed by the MoD for quite a number of years, but apart from the value, the contract gets us into another sector," said Mr Beatty.

"Our traditional sector is air defence and this is a new area for us, working on helicopters for naval applications.

"This weapons system will be taking on terrorists and insurgents, those who are regarded as an 'asymmetric threat'.

"The main targets would be pirates on the high seas who are posing a serious threat and causing serious problems.

"The missiles themselves are cleverly designed for precision strikes with low collateral damage.

"They are intended to focus very specifically on a target without impacting on civilians."

Mr Beatty said that as the helicopters could be in use to 2040 and beyond, the scope for follow-up work for Belfast workers was huge.

Belfast Telegraph