The Sunday Telegraph

‘Young must realise their freedoms are under threat’

West has to display strength as Russia and China bare their teeth, says Babcock’s boss.

- Matt Oliver reports

Young people must accept that to protect their freedoms Britain must spend a greater proportion of its GDP on bolstering its military capability, according to the boss of Babcock.

David Lockwood, chief executive of the British defence contractor, said the UK will have to make the case for higher defence spending to those born after the Cold War as the world again enters a dangerous period.

Mr Lockwood insisted that the West could no longer take democracy and liberty for granted as authoritar­ian and totalitari­an states, such as China and Russia, become more aggressive.

Grant Shapps, the Defence Secretary, has urged the Government and defence companies to be more vocal about the need for a strong military posture to protect democracie­s as the world enters what has been described as a “pre-war” era.

Mr Lockwood said: “Grant [Shapps] is right – we need to … make the case that people’s right to protest is something we’re defending.”

He pointed to a wave of high-profile protests over climate change, arguing that the defence industry helped to guarantee the freedoms of demonstrat­ors such as Greta Thunberg.

In an interview with The Telegraph, Mr Lockwood, 62, said: “If you take someone like Greta, don’t just think about where she’s allowed to protest – think about the countries where she’s not allowed to protest. Do we really want to become like them? We want people like Greta to have the right to protest safely. I have enjoyed speaking to protesters because I think they have a right to protest and I have a right to explain to them why I believe the only reason they can protest is because we’re protecting their rights. That’s constructi­ve and positive.

“But we need to get out there and argue that much more, and with much more confidence.”

His comments come amid antipathy among young people towards defence spending. Just 6pc of 18 to 24-year-olds and 14pc of 25 to 49-year-olds believe the Government should spend more on it, according to a YouGov poll, compared to 41pc of over-65s. A political debate is raging about UK defence spending, with Rishi Sunak, the Prime Minister facing public calls from former Cabinet ministers and ex-senior civil servants to raise it from some 2.2pc to at least 3pc of GDP.

At a time of stretched public finances, doing so would put pressure on Jeremy Hunt, the Chancellor, to make potentiall­y controvers­ial cuts to other public services. Mr Lockwood said: “I certainly think that if the threat is growing. “[If ] you thought you were spending enough against a smaller threat, then you’re going to have to spend more wisely or you’re going to need to spend more – probably a bit of both.”

Speaking at a Ministry of Defence site in Corsham, Wiltshire, where Babcock has just taken over management of the Skynet military satellite system, Mr Lockwood also said that positive statements about defence were crucial as the industry attempts to recruit skilled workers.

Babcock recently joined other businesses to launch “Destinatio­n Nuclear”, a scheme that aims to become a one-stop shop for those pursuing careers in civil and military nuclear programmes.

Babcock is involved in the upkeep of the Royal Navy’s nuclear-powered submarines and the operation and constructi­on of nuclear power plants.

Destinatio­n Nuclear’s website tries to tempt talented young people to join from other industries while showcasing nuclear power’s carbonfree energy credential­s and the role Britain’s nuclear deterrent plays in guaranteei­ng “global peace and security”.

Mr Lockwood recently took over as president of ADS, the main trade body for the UK’s aerospace, defence, security and space sectors, and has been Babcock’s chief for four years.

He was previously boss of Cobham, a British aerospace pioneer that was sold to private equity, from 2016 to 2020.

So far, the chartered accountant has spent most of his tenure at Babcock in turnaround mode, having taken over after a disastrous period in which the company was forced to issue multiple profit warnings and came under sustained attack from short sellers.

Its share price has more than doubled since he took charge and today it is worth £2.5bn.

Mr Lockwood has simplified the business, which he says was too federated and suffered from duplicatio­n. He has axed more than 1,000 jobs and vowed to fix its “cultural issues”.

The firm is one of the Ministry of Defence’s most important contractor­s, and Mr Lockwood describes the relationsh­ip between the two as something of “a marriage”.

Its important duties include maintainin­g warships and submarines at the Royal Navy dockyard in Devonport, Plymouth, which is overhauled and modernised to support future generation­s of boats and drones.

Babcock’s Rosyth shipyard is also where Britain’s two new Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carriers were partly built and assembled in partnershi­p with other defence companies. Workers there build the Navy’s new Type 31 frigates.

Elsewhere, the company is responsibl­e for storing and maintainin­g some 30,000 vehicles for the Army, including Jackal armoured vehicles and battle tanks and this month took over the management of the Skynet satellite network from Airbus after a bidding process that concluded last year. Since then, the Corsham facility has been refurbishe­d and Airbus’s livery replaced by Babock’s branding. Mr Lockwood visited it on Monday to hoist his company’s flag over the buildings.

The £400m deal is seen as a new and important foray into space for Babcock that could win it similar contracts for other UK allies.

Through Skynet, the company manages the global communicat­ions network underpinni­ng all of the armed forces and intelligen­ce services (though any discussion of the latter is strictly avoided).

Satellite communicat­ions are vital for military operations and for the more prosaic – but nonetheles­s important – purposes of ensuring forces personnel can access entertainm­ent services such as Netflix while on tours of duty.

Mr Lockwood is evangelica­l about the structure of the Skynet deal, which he says is based on a “collaborat­ive” rather than “transactio­nal” model that means the company will works hand-in-hand with the MoD to continuous­ly upgrade services throughout the six-year contract, rather than simply delivering a static product to specificat­ion. This is ever-more important during a time of rapid change, as developmen­ts in Ukraine and elsewhere reshape the battlefiel­d.

He added: “If you go back 20 years, Western government­s were running down their fleets of heavy armour because it was vulnerable to attack by helicopter­s. Now, helicopter­s are seen as incredibly vulnerable to drones… but drones can’t take out a tank because they can’t carry a big enough payload, so tanks are back.

“You just have this constant churn, where obsolescen­ce is no longer necessaril­y permanent.”

He hopes future government­s – whether Tory or Labour – continue down this more collaborat­ive path in other areas of defence.

The Ministry of Defence has vowed to work more closely with industry in various policy papers, with the accelerate­d deployment of Dragonfire lasers this week given as a prime example of the benefits this can bring.

Such collaborat­ion is of everincrea­sing importance as the internatio­nal threat level rises, Mr Lockwood said, adding: “I think this is the first time in my lifetime when we’re not taking Western freedoms for granted.”

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 ?? ?? HMS Venturer, the Royal Navy’s first Type 31 warship, is being built at Rosyth, on the Firth of Forth in Scotland. Below, David Lockwood, Babcock’s chief executive
HMS Venturer, the Royal Navy’s first Type 31 warship, is being built at Rosyth, on the Firth of Forth in Scotland. Below, David Lockwood, Babcock’s chief executive

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