Concern has been expressed regarding news that engine production could be taken away from GE Power in Rugby and given to a French firm in Nancy.

Earlier in the year this website also reported that a letter was sent from Defence Committee Chairman Julian Lewis to Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson, in relation to concerns over the build location for future components of the Type 26 frigate. You can read that here.

During a recent debate in Westminster Hall on defence procurement, further concerns were expressed in national security terms.

Steve Kerr, a worker General Electric for 25 and a union convenor for the union, said in the committee session:

“I would point out that the Rugby site is on the Government’s List X, which, as you know, is for buildings with defence manufacturing capabilities of national strategic importance. Overall, the Type 26 work we do is officially rated as “sensitive”, and there are elements of it that are classified as “NNPPI—UK eyes only”; I am not sure what the abbreviation stands for, but I am sure that you gentlemen will. To give you an idea of how sensitive it is, we have had foreign nationals who have been the site leader for manufacturing but who were not allowed on the shop floor until they gave notice, so that the equipment could be covered up with tarpaulins. They were also excluded from technical meetings at which secret and top-secret information was shared. It is very sensitive, and all the employees have to be security-cleared to work on site.

John Spellar, Member of Parliament for Warley, asked:

“If it is UK eyes only, it would, of its essence, be compromised if that work were moved to France?”

Kerr responded:

“Yes. This is why we cannot understand GE’s philosophy. They said, “It’s only the total package that is UK eyes only—if we cut it up into small work packages, it is not top-secret,” but they are going to put the whole lot of the equipment together, and it becomes a top-secret piece of equipment.”

Spellar probed further:

“What is your understanding of the security classification of the Nancy site?”

“Nancy has no UK security classification whatsoever. There was recently a visit by the Ministry of Defence and by British Aerospace, which is the lead partner in the Type 26 programme. When they went round, they were surprised to see Russian contracts on the shop floor. They asked whether that meant that there were Russian nationals there, and they were told, ‘Oh yes, we regularly have Russian engineers on the shop floor'”, Kerr replied.

He also added:

“There is also a concern that in 2011 two Chinese nationals, who were employees of the company, were detained and subsequently deported from France for having civil nuclear sensitive material on their computers. That involved a raid by the French intelligence services—it was a very serious matter. This is a constant threat. Late last year, at another General Electric facility in Belgium, there were some more Chinese nationals who had obtained information on the latest generation of fighter aircraft engines; I believe that at least one gentleman has been extradited to America to stand trial.

There is also the threat to the infrastructure. The naval facility in Rugby has a completely separate, stand-alone computer IT network, which has to be approved by the Ministry of Defence as cyber-secure, but there is nothing of that ilk in France. One of the IT personnel at work told me that it would take at least 18 months, and potentially two and a half years, to procure, install and test a secure IT infrastructure.”

The chair then asked about responses from key people in Government and the civil service:

“You fired off a salvo of letters to key people, including the CDS and the First Sea Lord, and you had this reply from Michael Gwyther, assistant head, DE&S Policy Secretariat (Ships), dated 14 November 2018. He says at one point: “The concerns that you raise about the loss of sovereign capability and security are matters the MoD takes very seriously and I can assure you they are being carefully considered.”

In the next but one sentence he says: “You will understand, however, that the future of the facility is ultimately a decision for the company.” Towards the end, he says: “No matter what the company’s final decision on the Rugby facility the MoD will continue to work closely with GE to ensure that key programmes can continue to be supplied and supported with the equipment they need to support the Royal Navy.”

Is there any way that GE could continue in the UK to supply the secret and top secret elements of their services that they are supplying at Rugby at the moment? Is there any other facility they could use to supply?”

Kerr responded:

“If the Rugby facility closes, no, there is no alternative place in the UK. We have the largest VPI tank in the world, which is key. The height of the building is another prerequisite.”

Eight Type 26 Frigates are to be built in total with three in the first batch, the contract for the second batch will be negotiated in the early 2020s.

Ordering in batches is common for projects of this size around the world and was last seen with the Royal Navy for the Type 45 Destroyers and recent Offshore Patrol Vessels. The Type 45s first batch order was for three vessels for example.

The Type 26 Frigates will be named Glasgow, Cardiff, Belfast, Birmingham, Sheffield, Newcastle, Edinburgh and London.

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dave12
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dave12

The french have gave the Argies 5 upgraded super etendard jets I’ve heard in recent news.

Watcherzero
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Watcherzero

But they also conspired with us to buy up all the missiles on the open market and arrange that the only ones that the Argentinians could get hold of had been sabotaged.

dave12
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dave12

Yep good point.

maurice10
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maurice10

I would rather see a delay to the commissioning than witness engine procurement going anywhere near France. Such a move just denies the UK of developing marine engine skills, which it needs to be capable of achieving; for national security reasons alone. If by any chance Brexit is achieved in 2019, defence strategy will need to rely more on homegrown industrial skills, if it is to stand any chance of success.

James Harrington
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James Harrington

M10, this is just a single event in a long stream of negligent government involvement in protecting our national strategic assets and interests. In the past few years this has included selling UK based cell phone patents to Softbank who tuned them over to China, the recent GKN fiasco where the UK operated manufacture of aircraft canopies (F35, P8 to name just 2) is being sold off. The leak about Chinese involvement in critical G5 communications is another disaster in the brewing. Did anyone read about the Pakistani municipality that found Huawei wifi cards placed in their traffic surveillance system?… Read more »

maurice10
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maurice10

The attitude within Whitehall is only focused on end dates and budgets. The mindset is purely based on multi-national thinking; where the place of origin is not as important as the piece price. The policy has built up over years of sourcing internationally, at the expense of our national industrial excellence. Hence, the loss of shipbuilding and our once World leading aero industry. Many young MOD managers were not born before our entry into the Common Market, so do not remember the former strength of British engineering, other than visiting the countless museums on the subject. A mindset change is… Read more »

spyintheskyuk
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spyintheskyuk

We never learn do we. We might as well sell the plans now to the Chinese (the Russians will never pay up) to at least gain us a few bob before they get it all for free. Hey we might be able to buy 25% of a ninth in the process. Well thats the way we seem to think in this country since the war as we give all our tech to others who sell it back to us cheaper so that we can close all our own factories… engineering is such dirty work don’t you know and no public… Read more »

Johnf
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Johnf

I would think that the Chinese already have all the info they want regarding the T-26, or any other supposed UK only tech they want. They steal with impunity and our government stands by and does nothing.

Nigel
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Nigel

Built by Nancy boys

James Harrington
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James Harrington

Your sister site: https://www.savetheroyalnavy.org/closure-of-ge-rugby-electric-motor-plant-threatens-supply-of-royal-navy-propulsion-systems/ has a slightly more detailed (but just as alarming) analysis on this very issue.

Chris H
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Chris H

We should just quietly remember GE is not a British company. It is a US company that bought out a British company GEC Alsthom (which became in 1998 ‘Alstom’) based in Rugby and Manchester. They also bought out ‘Converteam’ when its EMCATS was a serious threat to General Dynamics EMALS system to create ‘GE Power Conversion’. They have no loyalty or ties to the UK other than profits made for US investors. That isn’t a complaint its a simple fact. So to them a ‘rationalising’ move of production of sensitive kit from the UK to France means nothing. However they… Read more »

Hammarbytp
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Hammarbytp

You make some good points, and it is worth mentioning rather than moving work to a French company, it is proposed moving it to another part of GE based in France, so the headline is a bit ingenious. It is also worth mentioning the product were developed when power conversion was part of Alstom, a French state owned company and converteam a company incorporated in France, so it has never been a wholly UK company. The spy security scare stories are really just that, and it is not so much defence secrets but keeping the technology and skills together in… Read more »

Richyrich
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Richyrich

Thank you Chris H for a very eloquent analysis. I believe what you are describing is not simply a political zeitgeist wherebye there’s a zero sum game for the political class’ own shallow egotistical benefit. It is a function of the Anglo saxon economic model and what has been termed the open door world (to america). That is fundamentally a right wing laissez fair capitalism that is at the heart of the Conservative party . The tension of that with the lamentable results you describe is replicated everywhere in UK. Our Sense of self and patriotism is rooted to an… Read more »

Steve Taylor
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Steve Taylor

There are reasons why 5 Eyes is Anglo grouping.

GWM
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GWM

It’s a 5 eyes US company intending to move it to France .

Steve
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Steve

What a load of scare mongering and non-scense. Talk of Russia and other threats, that also are threats to France, not to mention that GE is a US company and so clealry not UK eyes only. Why is the US more safe than France, a country that is equally all it it for themselves Let’s be more transparent with the debates. Moving to France means loss of UK jobs, so there needs to be a balance, which means the cost saving results in the money going to create other jobs in another sector, if not it shouldnt happen. Talk of… Read more »

Peter Shaw
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Peter Shaw

What he meant is UK/US eyes only. Indeed he isn’t scaremongering and I’m not going into details why. This should not under any circumstances be given to France. Indeed we may compromise a long standing relationship if we do.

Rossi
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Rossi

It’s not just scare mongering the us and UK have worked on many military projects together since the second world war and have shared most technology between our two country’s barring a few very secretive techs for example British challenger tanks armour the biggest problem with us allowing the French to have anything to do with highly secretive tech for our military is the simple fact that they don’t like us and will do what they can to undermine us a recent example would be Falklands war our allies the French were selling exoset missiles to our enemies that resulted… Read more »

Helions
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Helions

GE is in a good deal of financial difficulty here in the U.S. I don’t see them surviving in their current form much longer without a major shakeout. Expect them to try every questionable means to cut costs regardless of the damage inflicted and technology lost to China…

Cheers.

Peter Shaw
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Peter Shaw

The company should be taken on as a UK plc company and maybe UK government should sweeten the deal for either BAE systems or Rolls-Royce if need be.

Peter Shaw
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Peter Shaw

I think UK politicians need to be taken out from critical decisions like this as they don’t have the technical ability or the security ability (regardless of advice). It should come from an engineer and a security specialist. If they come to the conclusion it damages UK infrastructure, enigineering and security it should be vetoed regardless of what the pleb MP with PPE from Oxford says…

Gavin Gordon
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Gavin Gordon

I believe that there may be no more logic involved in this move other thsn to appease Macron, who is fining GE for not creating enough jobs for French workers. In effect, they’d be making him an offer he could not refuse – access to advanced UK technology.

Shelley
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Shelley

I agree, Gavin. When France allowed GE to buy Alstom Power (somewhat unexpectedly; remember the Danone yoghurt fiasco?), they insisted on job preservation undertakings. The UK, which had as many of the old GEC-Alstom assets as France, didn’t have the sense or the guts to ask for the same.

What makes me sick is the chairperson saying of course it’s the company’s decision. The hell it is. Or shouldn’t be. He then goes on to contradict himself – otherwise why are they bothering to discuss it? God save us all.

the_marquis
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the_marquis

What a disaster…i really don’t trust May’s judgement at all. There is no sense of protecting either valuable British industry or sensitive national security infrastructure. And it leaves thr UK much poorer…

Steve
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Steve

Take into consideration that GE is a US company. A country that has not shared the code for the f35 with us. Who knows what they are not sharing in respect of other US brought kit. Unless we buy from purely UK owned companies our security is compromised, but that isn’t a realistic option anymore as all defence companies are multinational most make most of thier money abroad. In addition we don’t order enough to sustain a home grown industry. We are so selling the designs to the frigates to a number of countries and that list will hopefully grow,… Read more »

Hammarbytp
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Hammarbytp

Fine, but to develop products like this you need global presence. For example the motors were partly developed in France, code in Germany etc. It is also worth mentioning that they were originally developed by Alstom, a French state owned company and then Converteam, a French PLC. Without that international support and investment the company would not exist now. We do not need a parochial UK attitude, we need the UK government to encourage international investment and support, something recently they have only made more difficult

Shelley
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Shelley

Good to see an impassioned discussion of UK defence-industrial matters. Slightly off-topic… it was recently announced that the CMA is to investigate the proposed purchase of majority control of BAE Combat Vehicles Telford by Rheinmetall. I happen to think this is yet another example of Germany’s crazed lunge for global industrial control and I don’t like it, nor the UK’s tolerance, unique in the Western world, of foreign industrial takeovers in the name of an ‘open market’. I intend to make a submission to the CMA, not stating the above of course, but making the point that it is anti-competitive… Read more »

peter french
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peter french

Of course we will give the design to FRance ,we always give our secrets and products away either to Foreign rivals or whoever , and they Market and sell the product. The list of those Companys who have been taken over or have just given up is endless because our useless feckless \Goverments dont give a damn

Darren
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Darren

Type 26 Frigate tech ‘”Will” be compromised along with yet more UK sovereign capability lost’ if moved to France, due to the UK government being stupid and not giving a ****.

Ron
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Ron

I really do think that the MoD needs to step in here. The UK is a world leader in the quieting methods of naval propulsion as it goes hand in hand with ASW warfare which even our old T23s are still mixing it with the best ASW platforms prove. There are a few ways to fix the problem, give advanced orders for the next batch of T26s or bring it back under UK government control as it is in the national interest and let RR operate it. Under no circumstance should it go to France or any-other country. This is… Read more »

David E Flandry
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David E Flandry

Welk said. No matter who owns it, it is British in provnenance.