Dearth of orders forces Royal Ordnance closure

BAE SYSTEMS said this week’s announcement of the closure of Royal Ordnance Defence was not related to the decision to have the accident-prone SA80 combat rifle modified in Germany.

The Nottingham plant – the UK’s last surviving small arms manufacturer – is set to close by the end of this year with the loss of 400 jobs.

BAE Systems decided to axe the factory when orders for its 105mm light artillery gun and 105mm L7 tank gun all but dried up. The break-even order level for the factory is £35m.

News of the closure, however, increased speculation that the recent decision to modify the SA80 at Heckler & Koch’s factory in Germany had sealed the fate of the Nottingham factory.

The plant produced the SA80 for the army in the 1980s, and modifying the weapon – which has suffered persistent performance problems – respresents a multi-million pound contract.

BAE Systems insisted, however, that the two decisions were unconnected. A spokesman said: `The decision has nothing to do with the SA80, which has not been produced there for some years. It is all down to a lack of orders.’

Weapons production at the Nottingham facility will be transferred to BAE Systems’ facility at Barrow and the engineering resource to Leicester.

According to defence analysts, the closure of Royal Ordnance Defence reflects BAE Systems’ increasing emphasis on high-tech weapons projects.

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