Partnership between UK defence firm and India could boost Belfast plant

A new partnership between a UK defence firm and the Indian government has been described as having the potential to create new jobs at a Belfast plant.

Thales in Northern Ireland employs hundreds of people in the defence and space sectors.

It hopes to expand that after agreeing a teaming agreement with Bharat Dynamics Limited, a Government of India enterprise, to work in partnership on the Starstreak air defence system.

The Thales factory site in Belfast
The Thales factory site in Belfast

The missile system is in service in the British Army and has been procured by defence forces worldwide.

It is known as the fastest missile in its category and described as unique due to its three laser-guided darts, which cannot be jammed by any known countermeasure.

Alex Cresswell, chief executive of Thales in the UK, said it is good news for the business in Belfast, the supply chain of SMEs across the UK and its teams in India.

Evan Evans, regional director for Middle East and India, explained how they believe it has the potential to create growth and jobs at the Belfast base.

“We know there is a big need for a weapons system like Starstreak in India,” he told the PA news agency.

“They are the third or fourth spender on defence in the world, they spend a huge amount of money buying equipment from the rest of the world, but where they have got to now is that they need to buy equipment from India so they are investing money in their own economy.

We’re pleased to announce our Teaming Agreement with BDL in India to work in partnership on the STARStreak Air Defence system with the support of the @DefenceHQ and the Ministry of Defence of India.

— Thales UK (@ThalesUK) January 14, 2021

“They don’t have the capability in all areas to do that so what they’ve been looking for are partners who are prepared to bring in solutions that will enable them to spend at least some of the money on their own programmes.

“You don’t have access to the Indian market unless you are prepared to deliver a made-in-India solution, you have to be prepared to transfer some technology, manufacturing into India, but the benefit for us in doing that is that we get access to a huge market.

“The opportunities for a Starstreak-type solution is absolutely massive in India, so even though we are giving up some workshare to be able to get that access, our workshare percentage throughout the size of that programme is massive.

“And it means that if we were to win a programme in India then it would create jobs in India, but also in the UK because of the amount of work that we would have to do in support of it.”

Thales in Northern Ireland employs more than 500 people in the defence and space sectors, and contributes £35 million to the local economy.

Belfast is also home to Thales’s global Space Electric Propulsion centre for satellites, delivered in 2016 with a £6 million investment, and opened by astronaut Tim Peake.