I attended an event in my constituency last Thursday which was of supreme significance, and the culmination of long held dreams and aspirations. . It was the opening of the Thales UK Maritime Autonomy Centre at Turnchapel.
That title might not get your pulses running, but let me explain. Thales are a global defence contractor, hugely respected. They told me they are placing this start of the art research and development facility in Plymouth for three reasons:
(i) Proximity to both deep and shallow water. Apparently the Sound gets very deep very quickly just beyond the breakwater.
(ii) To access the maritime and engineering expertise of Plymouth University, which is second to none, and
(iii) To harness the potential of the many new and smart businesses that have been set up in Plymouth in recent years developing hi-tech products for both military and commercial use
In other words, our geography, our expertise and the dynamic new economy that is fast arising was the reason why this defence giant has invested here. This is exactly the sort of future for our economy many of us have been hoping for and working towards: combining our natural assets, our maritime heritage and expertise, the intellectual capital of our University with cutting edge local entrepreneurs in the maritime sector. This is a very visible first step towards that dream being realised and gives a new centre of gravity to our local economy.
Only 20 skilled and well paid jobs will be created to start with at this new facility to start with, but it is the potential that this investment heralds that is so significant. I inspected oneautonomous boat, programmed in advance where to go, which would be ideal for clearing sea mines, a task currently carried out by a crew of 30 on a minehunter vessel. How much more sensible to carry out that dangerous task without putting our brave service people in harm’s way. Once sea trials are successfully completed the autonomous craft, whether above or below the waves, could have many potential strategic uses,something the Royal Navy is seriously investigating.
Technology is changing the way we live, it always has done. The arena of warfare is a prime example of that. It is encouraging to know that with our 400 year long history of maritime expertise, Plymouth is well placed to be at the forefront of technological advances and investment that will help keep our economy boyant.