Ian Muldowney: Reach for the sky

By Ged Henderson

03 Oct 2022

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Ian Muldowney is looking for the next generation to follow his flight path and pilot Lancashire’s defence industry to new heights.

The chief operating officer at BAE Systems air sector began his career as an engineering apprentice 27 years ago after completing his A-levels.

Today he has a senior role and involvement in some of the UK’s biggest defence projects as BAE Systems and its Lancashire plants are tasked with maintaining the nation’s sovereign air capability.

Ian, a proud Lancastrian, looks back at his roots as an apprentice and believes his career pathway can act as an inspiration for the current crop of BAE Systems apprentices at its Warton and Samlesbury operations. He is looking for them to reach for the sky.

He sees ensuring a pipeline of talent as vital to the company’s future. In a previous role as engineering director, he took the decision to double the apprenticeship intake and firmly believes that growth must continue.

The business has announced that 365 apprentices and graduates will join its air sector in 2022, with 315 of them based in Lancashire.

Ian says: “I call myself a custodian. I want to hand over to the next generation of engineers, manufacturers, maintainers, technicians, project managers – it doesn’t matter where they come from.

“Those young people who come from an early careers programme, both apprentices and graduates, they are the people who should be having aspirations to do my role one day and hopefully I can inspire them to do that.”

He also points to positive strides made by BAE Systems when it comes to diversity, saying the business is now employing more female apprentices and attracting people from ethnic minorities: “People we never attracted before.”

Those apprentices have an exciting future ahead of them, he says, with Lancashire’s BAE Systems planemakers set to play major roles in the development of two key defence projects announced in and around the Farnborough event.

Enhancement of the Eurofighter Typhoon will include a £2.35bn upgrade on its radar system. And work is underway to develop a new flying combat air demonstrator as Tempest, the UK’s Future Combat Air System project, moves to its next stage. It is set to take to the skies within five years.

The announcements have been hailed as both job-securing and job-creating, with the Lancashire plants set to benefit.

Ian explains that the radar capability announcement will protect some of the high-end, high-tech skills that exist at Warton and Samlesbury. Test flights of the new radar are set to take off from Warton in the next 12 months.

He adds: “There are a lot of skills involved, including software skills, which reinforces the need to build our pipeline of new apprentices to keep it all moving forward.”

The economic importance of the Eurofighter Typhoon programme for Lancashire and the North West was revealed in a new report released at Farnborough.

More than 9,000 workers in the region are supported by the military jet programme. Employee wage spending contributed £210m to the region’s GDP, according to the report produced by Oxford Economics, The report, ‘Typhoon: Delivering Military and Economic Advantage’, also reveals that the aircraft contributed £1bn to UK net exports in 2020.

Ian describes Typhoon as “the backbone of the RAF” due to its multi-role capability. That is set to continue, and he believes the upgrade work offers opportunities to open up further export markets.

When it comes to Tempest, he stresses the importance of the project to the economy of Lancashire and the wider region, explaining: “The supply chain alone will be somewhere around 300-500 suppliers in the UK, a lot of them in the North West.”

And he adds: “We have to make sure the programme is successful and gets through its next review in 2024-25, because on the back of that we will be able to launch into a full-scale design and development programme.

“The work we do now over the next three years and the evidence we build up in industry is critical to support the MoD and RAF and to convince broader government and the tax payer that it is the right thing to do.”

To that end, some of BAE System’s cutting-edge work was on show at Farnborough, including the latest digital cockpit and helmet developments, new drone and electric air vehicle projects and advanced manufacturing concepts for Tempest.

Ian also highlights the way BAE Systems is strengthening its links with universities, including the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan).

With all this activity, there is little wonder he describes Lancashire as “the heartbeat of the sovereign combat air capability of the UK”.

He adds that the recent developments in Ukraine highlight the importance of keeping that sovereignty. Tempest, he says, “is about dominance of the air”.

Enjoyed this? Read more from Ged Henderson

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