Cutbacks in defense spending have not deterred commercial businesses from seeking military contracts.
At this week's Defense and Security Equipment International (DSEi) arms show, companies that are losing business in a souring economy have come to display their wares in hopes of scoring a government contract.
Case in point is the car racing industry. Representatives from the U.S. Army were seen at DSEi investigating potential vendors who could provide innovative technologies for U.S. tactical vehicles. “Two years ago we knew nothing about defense,” said Jason Watkins, commercial manager at Cosworth, a U.K. company that provides engines for Formula 1 racecars.
“But the economy sent us falling off a cliff and we needed to diversify.”
Aside from high-powered gasoline engines, the company has done a lot of work with electronics, providing systems for pit crews and drivers to communicate. Cosworth also came up with a device to record data after high-speed accidents on the racetrack. The information collected helped inform vehicle designs and protective equipment for the driver. The company won a contract using the data recorder to study the effects of roadside bombs on military vehicles and their occupants.
The tough economic climate is forcing contractors to look beyond their traditional providers, said Alistair Fergusson, chairman of the international Motorsport Industry Association (MIA).
Cosworth isn’t alone in its pursuit of defense contracts. The MIA three years ago launched a “Motorsport to Defense” initiative aimed at getting their companies defense contracts. The movement has been helped along by former high-ranking defense official who is also an amateur racecar driver.
In the U.K., the motorsport industry already has a reputation for high-tech products, more so than in than in the United States, said MIA chief executive Chris Aylett.
“To some degree, we have been successful, but I think we can become even more successful,” he said. “We don’t want to become a member of the defense industry, but a critical supplier.
Companies in the racing industry can provide resources for research and development, as well as build prototypes on an accelerated schedule, something that rarely is seen in most military acquisition programs, Aylett said.
U.K.-based Alcon supplies brakes and clutches to Formula 1 and Nascar racing teams. The company’s engineering projects manager Mike Jones said he could prototype a hydraulic system for a military vehicle in six weeks and have it in production in 12 weeks.
One manufacturer, Alpha Composites, used its lightweight materials to create a multi-functional product for the U.K. military. The Short Gap Crossing Bridge can help troops get across creeks and other terrain, as well as double as a ladder or stretcher. It is light enough to be carried by one dismounted soldier.
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