LONDON — BAE Systems will close its last armored fighting vehicle production site in the U.K. once a contract to build combat engineering machines is completed at the end of next year. Jobs in the munitions sector are also being axed.
The Newcastle-upon-Tyne site being closed by BAE built the world’s first production standard tanks in World War I and has produced guns and other weapons since 1847. At its height, it employed 44,000 people.
Up to 330 people could lose their jobs as the production site in northeast England is closed once the current contract to build 60 Terrier combat engineering vehicles for the British Army is completed at the end of 2013.
BAE said a business review concluded there was no prospect of new manufacturing work in the U.K. once Terrier construction ends. The decision leaves Sweden as BAE’s only European vehicles building site.
The British Ministry of Defence recently revealed its 5.5 billion pound ($8.6 billion), 10-year spending plans for the armored vehicles sector which showed there were no new major construction programs scheduled beyond those already awarded.
Much of the spending will go to upgrade existing vehicles, such as the 1 billion pound Warrior infantry fighting vehicle upgrade being undertaken by Lockheed Martin UK and an upgrade of the Challenger main battle tank.
Even supposed priority programs, such as the fielding by the British Army of General Dynamics UK’s new ASCOD SV scout vehicle, is likely to be pushed back five years to 2020.
Under present plans, the ASCOD SV machines would be partially built in Spain and completed by the state-owned Defence Support Group.
Under the policy of the Conservative-led coalition administration and the previous Labour government, armored vehicles are not a strategic sector. The ability to maintain and upgrade vehicles is a requirement but their manufacture in the U.K. is not.
A BAE spokesman said the company wanted to retain some of the heavy engineering specialists in the Newcastle area to support vehicles like the Challenger and its Titan and Trojan support variants.
The company is consolidating it armored vehicle support work at a site in Telford, in central England.
A further 280 people will lose jobs at BAE munition plants at Radway Green near Crewe, Washington in northeast England and Glascoed in South Wales. The company blamed the munitions jobs cuts on efficiency improvements and declining volumes of ammunition being purchased by the British Ministry of Defence.
The land systems cuts are the latest in a string of job losses across various sectors of BAE’s business in the U.K. over the past few years.