Alex Hawkes: In January 2008, you were appointed managing director of Boeing Defence UK, and in July the company officially began operations, what initial processes were required during this period?
Mike Kurth: The legal entity that is now known as Boeing Defence UK has been around since 1996. It was originally founded by the Boeing Company to primarily support the Brimstone programme (a joint venture that produced the Brimstone anti-armour weapon). It therefore made sense to take all of Boeing’s other various UK programmes and merge into a single wholly owned subsidiary.
Although I became the managing director in January, Boeing Defence UK did not officially start operations until July. During that initial period we had to work through all the administrative processes and assure we were aligned correctly with our partners and parent company. Boeing has 22 sites in the UK and we have employees at 16 of those, so meetings were routinely conducted in order to communicate our new intentions to staff. The meetings were conducted virtually using webcasts, which is a practise we still employ for short periods twice each working day.
AH: How has that benefited Boeing’s military customers in the UK?
MK: The Boeing brand is, of course, clearly recognised in the UK market and has been for sometime but the introduction of this new entity helps us communicate better with our primary defence customers and main decision makers. I am now a single point of contact if there is an issue with any of the Boeing defence programmes. I report directly to the leadership of the integrated defence systems in the US, therefore offering a streamlined path to a solution when there is a problem with one of our products in the UK.
AH: Can you offer any specific examples of how Boeing Defence UK has strengthened Boeing’s relationship with the UK military sector?
MK: One of the most interesting opportunities that presented itself this year was an invitation from the MoD to compete for the ten-year future logistics information services (FLIS) delivery partner contract. Currently, the MoD has several hundred software applications to manage logistical data and is seeking an industry partner to play a key role in transforming its present defence logistic information services.
Four industry teams, including Boeing, will now compete towards a further down select in the summer of 2009, before a final contract award in spring 2010.
As Boeing is a global enterprise it naturally has a very large IT infrastructure that possesses very large logistics information systems. We therefore believe if we take our strong programme management skills and apply it to this problem then we have a great opportunity to be successful in this pursuit.
We have a very good working relationship with the MoD, particularly due to our close collaboration with their air support units. We both engage in an annual mutual rating report whereby we evaluate one another’s performance throughout that year. I recently met with Tim Rowntree, director-general air support of the MoD, to discuss all our programmes and our overall working relationship.
AH: I understand Boeing has particularly strong simulation capabilities – how has that side of your business progressed during 2008?
MK: Yes that is correct. The RAF and army are now using a synthetic training facility developed by Boeing and the security technology company QinetiQ to deliver potentially life saving pre-deployment training for UK forces before they leave for Afghanistan. The distributed synthetic air land training (DSALT) facility at RAF Waddington was enhanced this year to enable soldiers to experience the complexities of controlling aircraft, artillery and other assets in a safe simulated environment. Recently we held a demonstration for a number of leading industry players, government officials and military participants in order for them to gain a greater understanding of its function.
Simulation training exercises are very high on the MoD’s list of capabilities it would like to have. The aerospace industry is currently under pressure from rising fuel costs and restrictive market conditions, which ultimately limits large scale combined arms trainings. The network at DSALT allows for a number of simulators to integrate, to which you are able to add constructive, virtual and real elements.
The simulations available today have very powerful visuals and very realistic procedures. As well as being hugely cost effective for training purposes, DSALT also has the ability to record the simulations allowing for participants to debrief afterwards and learn from the risks.
AH: How has that simulation facility been supported by The Portal, in Farnborough?
MK: There are similarities between The Portal and DSALT, but what we are trying to achieve with The Portal is more geared towards understanding our customers’ requirements at an earlier stage and involving them directly with the design process. When increasing capabilities – such as developing new programmes or upgrades for our software or products – it is difficult sometimes to even know what questions to begin with. By creating a simulated environment where you can actually test ideas, it is then possible to go back and analyse what difference it has made.
This ability to analyse has become an important resource for our customers and provides hard data to support any future change and procurement. Our team at Farnborough can help the aerospace industry, Boeing and its end users to understand what requirements are needed, and more importantly drive speed into the acquisition process by reducing the risks surrounding introducing new systems or technologies.