Siemens’ change of heart

German company plans to hold on to its Roke Manor electronics laboratory

German electronics company Siemens plans to keep a majority stake in its Roke Manor electronics laboratory near Southampton after it sells the Siemens Plessey Systems defence electronics business.

Previously Siemens said Roke Manor was for sale in its entirety, together with Siemens Plessey and all Siemens’ other defence electronics firms in Germany, Britain, Australia and Belgium.

All these companies are to be sold by the end of Siemens’ financial year at the end of this month. Today Siemens’ workers in Germany should learn which two of three bidders have made it to the shortlist.

Siemens wants to keep control of Roke Manor because of its strength in civil telecoms research, but will allow whoever wins Siemens Plessey to take a minority stake, safeguarding its interest in Roke Manor’s defence work.

Around 350 people work in Roke Manor’s three business units. Their work is split roughly 50:50 between civil and military contracts. Roke Manor designed the innards of the mobile phone which Siemens sells in Germany.

Military work done at the laboratory includes development of the Mesar phased array radar and the Halo artillery location system.

Three final bids are understood to have been submitted last week for all Siemens’ defence businesses. Offers came from GEC, from British Aerospace in collaboration with Dasa, and from French state-controlled defence group Thomson-CSF.

French industrial company Alcatel did not bid, though it may have joined with GEC, which may also have attracted a German partner, possibly Rheinmetall.

A German partner for Siemens’ suitors is important because of growing political pressure in Germany to protect Siemens’ German defence assets from foreign control.