BAE Systems was formed on 30 November 1999 by the £7.7 billion merger of British Aerospace (BAe) and Marconi Electronic Systems (MES). As a result, BAE Systems is the successor to many of the most famous British aircraft, defence electronics and warship manufacturers. Predecessor companies built the Comet, the world's first commercial jet airliner; the Harrier "jump jet", the world's first operational Vertical/Short Take-Off and Landing (VTOL) aircraft; the "groundbreaking" Blue Vixen radar carried by Sea Harrier FA2s and which formed the basis of the Eurofighter's CAPTOR radar; and co-produced the iconic Concorde supersonic airliner with Aérospatiale.
British Aerospace was a civil and military aircraft manufacturer, as well as a provider of military land systems. The company had emerged from the massive consolidation of UK aircraft manufacturers since World War II. British Aerospace was formed on 29 April 1977 by the nationalisation and merger of The British Aircraft Corporation (BAC), the Hawker Siddeley Group and Scottish Aviation. Both BAC and Hawker Siddeley were themselves the result of various mergers and acquisitions.
Marconi Electronic Systems was the defence subsidiary of British engineering firm The General Electric Company (GEC), dealing largely in military systems integration, as well as naval and land systems. Marconi's heritage dates back to Guglielmo Marconi's Wireless Telegraph & Signal Company, founded in 1897. GEC purchased English Electric (which included Marconi) in 1968 and thereafter used the Marconi brand for its defence businesses (as GEC-Marconi and later Marconi Electronic Systems). GEC's own defence heritage dates back to World War I, when its contribution to the war effort included radios and bulbs. World War II consolidated this position, as the company was involved in important technological advances, notably the cavity magnetron for radar. Between 1945 and 1999, GEC-Marconi/Marconi Electronic Systems became one of the world's most important defence contractors. GEC's major defence related acquisitions included Associated Electrical Industries in 1967, Yarrow Shipbuilders in 1985, Plessey companies in 1989, parts of Ferranti's defence business in 1990, the rump of Ferranti when it went into receivership in 1993/1994, Vickers Shipbuilding and Engineering in 1995 and Kværner Govan in 1999. In June 1998, MES acquired Tracor, a major American defence contractor, for £830 million (approx. US$1.4 billion c. 1998).
The 1997 merger of American corporations Boeing and McDonnell Douglas, which followed the forming of Lockheed Martin, the world's largest defence contractor in 1995, increased the pressure on European defence companies to consolidate. In June 1997 British Aerospace Defence managing director John Weston commented "Europe... is supporting three times the number of contractors on less than half the budget of the U.S.". European governments wished to see the merger of their defence manufacturers into a single entity, a European Aerospace and Defence Company.
As early as 1995 British Aerospace and the German aerospace and defence company DaimlerChrysler Aerospace (DASA) were said to be keen to create a transnational aerospace and defence company. The two companies envisaged including Aérospatiale, the other major European aerospace company, but only after its privatisation. The first stage of this integration was seen as the transformation of Airbus from a consortium of British Aerospace, DASA, Aérospatiale and Construcciones Aeronáuticas SA into an integrated company; in this aim British Aerospace and DASA were united against the various objections of Aérospatiale. As well as Airbus, British Aerospace and DASA were partners in the Panavia Tornado and Eurofighter Typhoon aircraft projects. Merger discussions began between British Aerospace and DASA in July 1998, just as French participation became more likely with the announcement that Aérospatiale was to merge with Matra and emerge with a diluted French government shareholding. A merger was agreed between British Aerospace chairman Richard Evans and DASA CEO Jürgen Schrempp in December 1998.
Meanwhile, GEC was also under pressure to participate in defence industry consolidation. Reporting the appointment of George Simpson as GEC managing director in 1996, The Independent had said "some analysts believe that Mr Simpson's inside knowledge of BAe, a long-rumoured GEC bid target, was a key to his appointment. GEC favours forging a national 'champion' defence group with BAe to compete with the giant US organisations." When GEC put MES up for sale on 22 December 1998, British Aerospace abandoned the DASA merger in favour of purchasing its British rival. The merger of British Aerospace and MES was announced on 19 January 1999. Evans stated that in 2004 that his fear was that an American defence contractor would acquire MES and challenge both British Aerospace and DASA. The merger created a vertically integrated company which The Scotsman described as "[a combination of British Aerospace's] contracting and platform-building skills with Marconi's coveted electronics systems capability", for example combining the manufacturer of the Eurofighter with the company that provided many of the aircraft's electronic systems; British Aerospace was MES' largest customer. In contrast, DASA's response to the breakdown of the merger discussion was to merge with Aérospatiale to create the European Aeronautic Defence and Space Company (EADS), a horizontal integration.
Seventeen undertakings were given by BAE Systems to the Department of Trade and Industry which prevented a reference of the merger to the Monopolies and Mergers Commission. These were largely to ensure that the integrated company would tender sub-contracts to external companies on an equal basis with its subsidiaries. Another condition was the "firewalling" of former British Aerospace and MES teams on defence projects such as the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF). In 2007 the government, on advice from the Office of Fair Trading, announced it had agreed to release BAE Systems from ten of the undertakings due to "a change in circumstances".
BAE Systems inherited the UK government owned "golden" share that was established when British Aerospace was privatised. This unique share prevents amendments of certain parts of the company's Articles of Association without the permission of the Secretary of State. These Articles require that no foreign person or persons acting together may hold more than 15% of the company's shares.
British Aerospace's head office was in Warwick House, Farnborough Aerospace Centre in Farnborough, Hampshire. BAE Systems retains this but the registered office, and base for the senior leadership team, is in the City of Westminster.
BAE Systems' first annual report identified Airbus, support services to militaries and integrated systems for air, land and naval applications as key areas of growth. It also stated the company's desire to both expand in the US and participate in further consolidation in Europe. BAE Systems described 2001 as an "important year" for its European joint ventures, which were reorganised considerably. The company has described the rationale for expansion in the US; "[it] is by far the largest defence market with spend running close to twice that of the Western European nations combined. Importantly, US investment in research and development is significantly higher than in Western Europe." When Dick Olver was appointed chairman in July 2004 he ordered a review of the company's businesses which ruled out further European acquisitions or joint ventures and confirmed a "strategic bias" for expansion and investment in the US. The review also confirmed the attractiveness of the land systems sector and, with two acquisitions in 2004 and 2005, BAE moved from a limited land systems supplier to the second largest such company in the world. This shift in strategy was described as "remarkable" by the Financial Times. Between 2008 and early 2011 BAE acquired five cyber security companies in a shift in strategy to take account of reduced spending by governments on "traditional defence items such as warships and tanks".
In 2000 Matra Marconi Space, a joint BAE Systems/Matra company, was merged with the space division of DASA to form Astrium. On 16 June 2003 BAE sold its 25% share to EADS for £84 million, however due to the lossmaking status of the company, BAE Systems invested an equal amount for "restructuring". In January 2001 Airbus Industrie was transformed from an inherently inefficient consortium structure to a formal joint stock company. BAE Systems sold its 54% majority share of BAE Systems Canada, an electronics company, in April for CA$310 (approx. £197 million as of December 2010). In November 2001, the company announced the closure of the Avro Regional Jet (Avro RJ) production line at Woodford and the cancellation of the Avro RJX, an advanced series of the aircraft family, as the business was "no longer viable". The final Avro RJ to be completed became the last British civil airliner. In November 2001 BAE sold its 49.9% share of Thomson Marconi Sonar to Thales for £85 million. A further step of European defence consolidation was the merger of BAE's share of Matra BAe Dynamics and the missile division of Alenia Marconi Systems (AMS) into MBDA in December. MBDA thus became the world's second largest missile manufacturer. Although EADS (now Airbus SE) was later reported to be interested in acquiring full control of MBDA, BAE said that, unlike Airbus, MBDA is a "core business".
The Astute-class submarine
project caused BAE to issue a profit warning in 2002 and invest £250 million to overcome its difficulties.
In June 2002, BAE Systems confirmed it was in takeover discussions with TRW, an American aerospace, automotive and defence business. This was prompted by Northrop Grumman's £4.1 billion (approx. US$6 billion c. 2002) hostile bid for TRW in February 2002. A bidding war between BAE Systems, Northrop and General Dynamics ended on 1 June when Northrop's increased bid of £5.1 billion was accepted. On 11 December 2002, the company issued a shock profit warning due to cost overruns of the Nimrod MRA4 maritime reconnaissance/attack aircraft and the Astute-class submarine projects. On 19 February 2003 BAE took a charge of £750 million against these projects and the Ministry of Defence (MOD) agreed to pay a further £700 million of the cost. In 2000 the company had taken a £300 million "loss charge" on the Nimrod contract which was expected to cover "all the costs of completion of the current contract". The troubled Nimrod project would ultimately be cancelled as part of the 2010 Strategic Defence and Security Review.
The UK government, following a cabinet row described as "one of the most bitter Cabinet disputes over defence contracts since the Westland helicopter affair in 1985", ordered 20 BAE Hawk trainer aircraft with 24 options in July 2003 in a deal worth £800 million. The deal was significant because it was a factor in India's decision to finalise a £1 billion order for 66 Hawks in March 2004. Also in July 2003 BAE Systems and Finmeccanica announced their intention to set up three joint venture companies, to be collectively known as Eurosystems. These companies would have pooled the avionics, C4ISTAR and communications businesses of the two companies. However the difficulties of integrating the companies in this way led to a re-evaluation of the proposal; BAE Systems' 2004 Annual Report states that "recognising the complexity of the earlier proposed Eurosystems transaction with Finmeccanica we have moved to a simpler model". The main part of this deal was the dissolution of AMS and the establishment of SELEX Sensors and Airborne Systems; BAE Systems sold its 25% share of the latter to Finmeccanica for €400 million (approx. £270 million c. 2007) in March 2007.
In May 2004, it was reported that the company was considering selling its shipbuilding divisions, BAE Systems Naval Ships and BAE Systems Submarines. It was understood that General Dynamics wished to acquire the submarine building facilities at Barrow-in-Furness, while VT Group was said to be interested in the remaining yards on the Clyde. Instead, in 2008 BAE Systems merged its Surface Fleet arm with the shipbuilding operations of VT Group to form BVT Surface Fleet, an aim central to the British Government's Defence Industrial Strategy.
BAE's £2.5 billion purchase of United Defense in 2005 added the M2/M3 Bradley
family of armoured vehicles to its product line.
On 4 June 2004, BAE Systems outbid General Dynamics for Alvis Vickers, the UK's main manufacturer of armoured vehicles. Alvis Vickers was merged with the company's RO Defence unit to form BAE Systems Land Systems. Recognising the lack of scale of this business compared to General Dynamics, BAE Systems executives soon identified the US defence company United Defense Industries (UDI), a major competitor to General Dynamics, as a main acquisition target. On 7 March 2005 BAE announced the £2.25 billion (approx. US$4.2 billion c. 2005) acquisition of UDI. UDI, now BAE Systems Land and Armaments, manufactures combat vehicles, artillery systems, naval guns, missile launchers and precision guided munitions.
In December 2005, BAE Systems announced the sale of its German naval systems subsidiary, Atlas Elektronik, to ThyssenKrupp and EADS. The sale was complicated by the requirement of the German government to approve any sale. The Financial Times described the sale as "cut price" because French company Thales bid €300 million, but was blocked from purchasing Atlas on national security grounds. On 31 January 2006 the company announced the sale of BAE Systems Aerostructures to Spirit AeroSystems, Inc, having said as early as 2002 that it wished to dispose of what it did not regard as a "core business".
On 18 August 2006 Saudi Arabia signed a contract worth £6 billion to £10 billion for 72 Eurofighter Typhoons, to be delivered by BAE Systems. On 10 September 2006 the company was awarded a £2.5 billion contract for the upgrade of 80 Royal Saudi Air Force Tornado IDSs. One of BAE Systems' major aims, as highlighted in the 2005 Annual Report, was the granting of increased technology transfer between the UK and the US. The F-35 (JSF) programme became the focus of this effort, with British government ministers such as Lord Drayson, Minister for Defence Procurement, suggesting the UK would withdraw from the project without the transfer of technology that would allow the UK to operate and maintain F-35s independently. On 12 December 2006, Lord Drayson signed an agreement which allows "an unbroken British chain of command" for operation of the aircraft. On 22 December 2006 BAE received a £947 million contract to provide guaranteed availability of Royal Air Force (RAF) Tornados.
On 7 May 2007 the company announced its subsidiary BAE Systems Inc. was to purchase Armor Holdings for £2.3 billion (approx. US$4.5 billion c. 2007) and completed the deal on 31 July 2007. The company is a manufacturer of tactical wheeled vehicles and a provider of vehicle and individual armour systems and survivability technologies. BAE Systems (and British Aerospace previously) was a technology partner to the McLaren Formula One team from 1996 to December 2007. The partnership originally focused on McLaren's F1 car's aerodynamics, eventually moving on to carbon fibre techniques, wireless systems and fuel management. BAE Systems' main interest in the partnership was to learn about the high speed build and operations processes of McLaren.
The company announced the acquisition of Tenix Defence, a major Australian defence contractor on 18 January 2008. The purchase was completed on 27 June for A$775 million (£373 million) making BAE Systems Australia that country's largest defence contractor. The UK Ministry of Defence awarded BAE Systems a 15-year munitions contract in August 2008 worth up to £3 billion, and known as Munition Acquisition Supply Solution (MASS). The contract guarantees supply of 80% of the UK Armed Forces' ammunition and required BAE to modernise its munitions manufacturing facilities. BAE Systems expanded its intelligence and security business with the £531 million purchase of Detica Group in July 2008. It continued this strategy with purchases of Danish cyber and intelligence company ETI for approximately $210 million in December 2010, and Norkom Group PLC the following month for €217 million. The latter provides counter fraud and anti-money laundering solutions to the global financial services industry where its software assists institutions to comply with regulations on financial intelligence and monitoring.
BAE Systems inherited British Aerospace's share of Airbus Industrie, which consisted of two factories at Broughton and Filton. These facilities manufactured wings for the Airbus family of aircraft. In 2001 Airbus was incorporated as Airbus SAS, a joint stock company. In return for a 20% share in the new company BAE Systems transferred ownership of its Airbus plants (known as Airbus UK) to the new company.
Despite repeated suggestions as early as 2000 that BAE Systems wished to sell its 20% share of Airbus, the possibility was denied by the company until on 6 April 2006 BBC News reported that it was indeed to sell its stake, then "conservatively valued" at £2.4 billion. Due to the slow pace of informal negotiations, BAE Systems exercised its put option which saw investment bank Rothschild appointed to give an independent valuation. Six days after this process began, Airbus announced delays to the A380 with significant effects on the value of Airbus shares. On 2 June 2006 Rothschild valued the company's share at £1.87 billion, well below its own analysts' and even EADS' expectations. The BAE Systems board recommended that the company proceed with the sale. On 4 October 2006 shareholders voted in favour and the sale was completed on 13 October. BAE Systems' sale of its Airbus share saw the end of UK-owned involvement in civil airliner production. Airbus Operations Ltd (the former Airbus UK) continues to be the Airbus "Centre of Excellence" for wing production, employing over 9,500, but is entirely owned by the Airbus Group (formerly EADS).
In February 2010 BAE Systems announced a £592 million writedown of the former Armor Holdings business following the loss of the Family of Medium Tactical Vehicles contract in 2009. It was outbid by Oshkosh Corporation for the £2.3 billion ($3.7 billion) contract. Land and Armaments had been the "star performer" of BAE Systems' subsidiaries, growing from sales of £482 million in 2004 to £6.7 billion in 2009.
BAE Systems inherited British Aerospace's 35% share of Saab AB, with which it produced and marketed the Gripen fighter aircraft. In 2005 it reduced this share to 20.5% and in March 2010 announced its intention to sell the remainder. The Times stated that the decision brought "to an end its controversial relationship with the Gripen fighter aircraft". Several of the export campaigns for the aircraft were subject to allegations of bribery and corruption.
The company continued its move into support services in May 2010 with the purchase of the marine support company Atlantic Marine for $352 million. In September 2010 BAE Systems announced plans to sell the Platform Solutions division of BAE Systems Inc., which the Financial Times said could yield as much as £1.3 billion. Despite "considerable expressions of interest", the sale was abandoned in January 2011. The purchases of Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carriers, the Astute-class submarines, and the Type 26 frigates were all confirmed. A new generation of nuclear missile submarines, the Dreadnought-class, was ordered in 2016.
BAE Systems sold the regional aircraft lease portfolio and asset management arm of its BAE Systems Regional Aircraft business in May 2011. This unit leases the BAe 146/Avro RJ family, BAe ATP, Jetstream and BAe 748. The company retained the support and engineering activities of the business as part of the transaction.
In September 2011, BAE Systems began consultation with unions and workers over plans to cut nearly 3,000 jobs, mostly in the company's military aircraft division.
In its 2012 half-year report, the company revealed a 10% decline in revenue in the six months up to 30 June due to falling demand for armaments. In May 2012 the governments of the UK and Saudi Arabia reached an agreement on an arms package which saw a £1.6 billion contract awarded to BAE for the delivery of 55 Pilatus PC-21 and 22 BAE Systems Hawk aircraft. The Sultanate of Oman ordered Typhoon and Hawk aircraft worth £2.5 billion in December 2012.
On 13 September 2012, it was reported that BAE Systems and EADS had entered possible merger talks. In case of a potential tie-up, BAE shareholders would own 40% and EADS shareholders would own 60% of the new organisation. On 10 October 2012, the companies said the merger talks had been called off. The Guardian reported the reason for the collapse of the proposal was due to the German Government's concern about the "potential size of the French shareholding in the combined company, as well as disagreements over the location of the group's headquarters".
On 6 November 2013, BAE Systems announced that 1,775 jobs were to go at its yards in England and Scotland. Shipbuilding would also cease entirely in Portsmouth in 2014 with the loss of 940 jobs, and a further 835 jobs would be lost at Filton, near Bristol, and at the shipyards in Govan, Rosyth, and Scotstoun in Scotland.
In July 2014 it announced the acquisition of US intelligence capability, Signal Innovations Group Inc., to augment imagery and data analysis technologies in its Intelligence & Security business.
In August 2014, BAE was awarded a £248 million contract from the British government to build three new offshore patrol vessels.
In October 2014, BAE Systems won a £600 million contract from the British Ministry of Defence to maintain Portsmouth naval base for five years.
On 9 October 2014, the company announced the loss of 440 management jobs across the country, with 286 of the job cuts in Lancashire. BAE said that the changes are to "make a more efficient and effective business". During 2014 BAE Systems acquired US-based cybersecurity firm Silversky for $232.5 million.
During Theresa May's visit to Turkey in January 2017, BAE and TAI officials signed an agreement, worth about £100 million, for BAE to provide assistance in developing the TAI TFX aircraft. On 10 October 2017, BAE announced that it would lay off nearly 2,000 out of its approximately 35,000 employees in Britain, mainly due to an order shortage for the Eurofighter Typhoon fighter.
On 21 January 2019, BAE Systems announced that the company would sell a 55% share of its UK land business to Rheinmetall for £28.6 m subject to government approvals. The joint venture (JV) would be called Rheinmetall BAE Systems Land (RBSL) and be headquartered at BAE's existing facility in Telford, Shropshire. If approved, the JV will have a positive effect on the UK's Mechanised Infantry Vehicle (MIV) procurement, which could result in contracts for at least 500 Boxer vehicles to equip the UK's future strike brigades. BAE Systems and Rheinmetall are currently competitors in the UK's Challenger 2 Life Extension Project (LEP), but according to BAE Systems the competition between the companies will continue, an agreement with Rheinmetall ensuring that the solution will be delivered from Telford regardless of the contract winner.