The UK’s cosy relationship with US Aerospace giants will hinder its ambitions6th Jul 2020
Both the UK and US Governments have had a history of hampering progress in the Aerospace and Space industries – as well as technological developments in other sectors. And it’s been going on for decades. But more importantly it has some quite worrying aspects to it.
From as early as the 1950s, both Governments have habitually put the brakes on many areas of technological advancement and have frequently obstructed companies or organisations not only in UK and USA, but used their influence elsewhere including Canada.
We are already aware of the UK giving up on its Space ambitions back in the early 1970s, abandoning their Space programme in favour of handing all Space activity over to the Americans. An arrangement that has been in place until recently.
And in the USA, their own Space programme has been relatively stagnant (in terms of any huge technological advancement) for decades. Only recently making significant progress when SpaceX and Blue Origin appeared on the scene. With both of those companies making more progress in the last few years than the country’s own efforts had delivered over the decades when they had a monopoly cartel through a cosy arrangement with the likes of Boeing, Lockheed Martin and Airbus.
Back in the 1950s Canada developed an interceptor aircraft, the Avro Arrow, capable of travelling faster than the speed of sound. This was a ground-breaking development. The test flights were successful and Canada officially had the fastest, most effective aircraft in the world. Then something odd happened… The Canadian Government pulled the plug.
About one year after its first flight, the Canadian Government ordered the project to be stopped on 20th February 1959. By July of that year all planes that had already been built were broken up and sold as scrap and in a very odd move all the blueprints, machinery, models & designs were ordered to be destroyed. In total over 25,000 job losses occurred right across the country.
There had been talk of many backroom deals and political battles that resulted in the project’s demise and ultimately the company, Avro, just a couple of years later shut down. Paving the way for their US counterparts to “own” the aerospace industry and become the largest suppliers of military aircraft to governments around the world.
There may be a vast number of reasons why these governments opt to suppress innovative newcomers and technological advancement, but mostly they will come down to economic factors. With US politicians often heavily invested in companies like Lockheed Martin, Boeing & Airbus to name but a few, it is in their interests to ensure those entities are not damaged by competition. In fact, more so, that they are awarded more and more government contracts to further fuel their growth. All of this despite huge reputational issues and frequent fines for illegal activities (which we covered fairly recently) –
The UK is no different. We have seen this by the awarding of launch contracts and grants to Lockheed Martin, who count amongst their investors one Philip May – husband of former British Prime Minister, Theresa May. Lockheed aren’t necessarily best positioned or the most experienced company in the field of launch services, but that isn’t how it works. We have seen that recently when the current government under the leadership of Dominic Cummings and his assistant Boris Johnson, awarded a PPE supply contract worth £108m to a small pest control company. Or when an offshore company, based in Mauritius, with just over £300 in assets, received a £250m order for facemasks during the current Covid-19 crisis.
Philip May’s financial interests in Lockheed Martin are very well documented…
We can therefore see the risks facing the renewed British Space ambitions, of being sold off to the highest bidder – or at least to the bidder that the government has the highest vested interest in. Because that is how it works and how it has always worked for decades. Any intruders into this sector will face huge barriers put up by the government and supported by their American allies. A recent agreement put in place to secure “co-operation” between the UK government and those huge US enterprises demonstrates this to be the reality. The agreement allowed for those American companies not only to launch rockets from UK soil, but also to supply the hardware for others to do so. This agreement was celebrated by the UK Space Agency just two days ago…
So, whilst we remain excited to see rocket launches from UK soil, we also harbour some very serious concerns given the way in which both UK and US governments have behaved in the past – and appear to be behaving now.
It took SpaceX and Blue Origin to shake things up in the states and bring about real innovation and ambition. The same will be true in the UK as we cannot rely on the government here to be the progressive driver of ambition. Particularly when we see the behaviours of old repeatedly being played out.
The UK will take its place on the world stage in Space only when a true champion emerges.