South East SMEs contribute to Britain’s maritime history


This week heralds an important event in Britain’s maritime history. On the 4th July, HM Queen will formally name HMS Queen Elizabeth at Rosyth Dockyard. This long awaited aircraft carrier will be the largest ship ever used by the Royal Navy with a displacement of 65,000 tonnes, a length of 265m, width of 120 metres and is 68 metres tall (that’s taller than Niagra Falls). Along with her sister ship HMS Prince of Wales, she is three times larger that the Invincible class carrier she replaces.

So apart from being a political football and a massive and sometimes controversial, statement projecting the UK’s power and influence in peacetime, wartime and humanitarian crises – what effect will she have on our economy?

Well a little known fact is that despite advances in technology and air transport 95% of our traded produce travels by sea, that adds up to £524 million of imported goods. Globally 90% of world traded goods still travel by sea. Despite us feeling we are in “modern” times, piracy with unsecure trade routes is still an issue in some parts of the world. A global strategic footprint is still important.

HMS Queen Elizabeth will have a range of 8-10000 nautical miles and will serve for 50 years. It’s highly probable that her final commanding officer is yet to be born!

However, as a manufacturing person the key thing to me is that this is an impressive example of how UK manufacturing can excel. Most will be aware that no single shipyard in the UK was big enough to build the ship by itself, so “modules” were constructed and transported to Roysth where the ship was finally assembled using a specially made crane that could lift over 1000 tonnes.

Frustratingly however this is just the tip of the iceberg in the sense of the overall value proposition. In terms of the South East some of the major ship modules were built in Portsmouth but many other high value systems and components were made by local companies such as Alfa Laval Ltd, based in Camberley, who made the heat exchangers for the fresh water system. Other components manufactured in the region include the communications system much of which was designed and made in Crawley, High Wycombe and Portsmouth and stores refrigeration which was made in Kent. The visual surveillance system and integrated navigation and bridge system was designed and made by two different companies in New Malden!

Not all of the systems are purely for military use either. Many have uses in the civil sector or utilise “commercial off the shelf” technology. It’s unfortunate that these things are never discussed by the media as they aren’t obvious and are sometimes difficult to explain. It’s easier to visualise the large steel fabrications!

Of course eventually the carrier will have it’s own air capability with both rotary and fixed wing aircraft. The carrier will fly F35B Lightning II “stealth” aircraft, of which 15% of the value and workshare will have been designed and manufactured in the UK, again much of which within London and the South East. These aircraft are the successors to Harrier and have vertical take off and landing capability- but with an infinitesimal amount of extra technology!

All of this design and manufacturing work is of very high added value, employing engineers and programme managers of the highest calibre. HMS Queen Elizabeth is a showcase of talent that enables these design and manufacture businesses to demonstrate their world class capabilities, export products globally to both military and civil projects and lead our a economy into export led sustainable growth.

For a full list of the companies that helped produce HMS Queen Elizabeth, follow this link  and to find out more about the ship go here

To see this article on the SME Rocket follow this link

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