Aerospace and defence firms go green

With defence budgets in Western countries on the decline, companies in the sector are faced with a dilemma: carry on competing for a slice of an ever-smaller pie, or choose other areas of activity completely?

Recently, five major players in the defence and aerospace industries declared their position when their announced that they would be ‘going green’, at least in terms of where their future markets lay.

In a joint statement, Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, Saab, Finmeccanica and Northrop Grumman, revealed their intention to redirect their wealth of technological expertise towards tackling ‘world issues’ such as disaster relief, the development of renewable energy technologies and the mitigation of the effects of climate change on the planet.

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While some of these companies do already have business interests that touch on these areas, this co-ordinated foray into the environmental arena may at first seem a poor fit.

Undoubtedly the firms’ move is a pragmatic business decision, perhaps made more out of necessity than choice. However, on closer inspection, the seemingly peculiar juxtaposition of the two may be not that odd after all.

There is widespread recognition that only technology will be able to solve many of our current and future environmental issues, and this is a field where defence and aerospace company have a wealth of expertise and knowledge.

What’s more, much of that technological expertise and current research and development can, with relative ease, be transferred and applied to some of the most pressing and potentially devastating issues that are facing us all globally.

For example, defence firms have long had an interest in alternative power generation as means of providing a secure energy source for military use.  They are also well used to creating new infrastructure in conflict hit zones, and that is little different from doing the same in regions that have been devastated by more natural disasters.

None of the companies have made any announcements yet about specific projects they might collaborate on, though Saab has already indicated that it has plans to help Latin American cities develop more modern infrastructures.

The companies’ statement certainly indicates a recognition that they will need to reposition their businesses going into the future. Inevitably, this will require a wholesale review and revision of their current business models, as they will have to find altogether different ways to engage commercially with their new customers.

There are also potential questions as to how this collaboration will work in practice. What, for example, will happen if the technology of one partner proves to be of far greater value or use than another’s?

Potential stumbling blocks like this aside, the technological muscle that companies like Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, Saab, Finmeccanica and Northrop Grumman can throw at the world’s problems could be something of a game changer. This more collaborative approach could see a greater responsiveness to sudden, unexpected disasters and lead to a more coherent and coordinated strategy for tackling the great environmental challenges of our day in a way that's never been seen before.

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