This year’s Armed Forces Week highlights once again the gratitude we owe those who serve in the UK armed forces.
Shortly after the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic took effect, the UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) created the Covid-19 Support Force (CSF): the Department’s contribution to the coronavirus response. From 18 March, some 20,000 UK Armed Forces personnel stood in readiness, with up to 4,000 committed nearly every day to provide 'military aid to the civil authority' (MACA).
The Nightingale Hospitals constructed around the UK at pace rightly grabbed the headlines as shining examples of the capability and support that our Armed Forces bring to a national or international crisis. However, there has been so much more that our service personnel have done to help the country through these unprecedented times in terms of protecting communities at home and around the globe, strengthening public services and of course, more widely supporting the NHS.
One aspect of this support saw Joint Helicopter Command establish the Aviation Task Force which quickly put helicopters – including the AW101 Merlin and AW159 Wildcat designed and manufactured by Leonardo at its Yeovil site – on standby to provide additional aviation capability to civil authorities such as transportation of NHS staff, equipment and patients to emergency care facilities.
Supporting those that serve
Ensuring these platforms and other military capability remained operationally ready was quickly identified by the UK Government as essential to the security of the nation. The MoD wrote to Leonardo to stress how our work is of national importance and how key programmes should continue in order to maintain the readiness of our Armed Forces and those of our allies.
In addition to supporting our Merlin and Wildcat helicopters, Royal Air Force (RAF) Typhoons, which Leonardo equips and supports, needed to remain on Quick Reaction Alert as our defences were probed daily during the crisis. Our cyber security specialists also continued to protect NATO networks as opposing forces sought to take advantage of the emergency, ramping up phishing and other attacks.
Following investment in expanded IT infrastructure, up to 70% of the 7,000 people employed by Leonardo in the UK have been able to work from home since lockdown began, however, some of our workforce has remained on site. These employees have been designated as “key workers” to ensure we fully maintain the services required of us throughout this period.
This dedication to the job in hand was acknowledged by Leonardo UK Chairman and Managing Director, Norman Bone: “I am exceptionally grateful to our key workers as they continue to carry out essential operations during this period. Throughout this emergency, the behaviour of our employees has been inspiring. I am extremely proud of the energy and team spirit with which our people have faced the difficulties presented by a nationwide lockdown.”
Keeping everyone safe
At the same time as providing critical support to allow the UK Armed Forces to fulfil their vital role during the pandemic, Leonardo employees have also responded to the crisis by manufacturing Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to help protect NHS staff and key workers in the communities surrounding the company's UK sites.
To date, employees from across our UK sites have delivered in excess of 3,300 items of PPE, not only to local NHS Hospitals and care organisations, but also to further shield our own key workers working on-site or on military bases.
As part of the Typhoon Total Availability eNterprise (TyTAN) agreement, Leonardo works alongside BAE Systems and the RAF to deliver what is known as the Joint Avionics Solution (JAS). Based at RAF Coningsby, the JAS Avionics Regional Centre (ARC) provides the Typhoon fleet with ongoing technical support, advice and product repair for the aircraft’s radar and Defensive Aid Sub-System (DASS).
“During the COVID-19 pandemic, the ARC has adapted to the changing advice and guidance with two priorities, which are the safety of the team and supporting the customer," says Leonardo’s ARC Manager, John Sowerby.
“The RAF has needed to maintain a high flying rate during this period of lockdown and we have endeavoured to ensure that the RAF always has the kit they need.
“Those Field Service Representatives, who have remained on-site, have altered their shifts and working practices to keep safe while continuing to support and respond to Front line Squadrons.”
Ensuring the health and safety of our employees and their families was of paramount importance if the company was to continue to help maintain the level of readiness our Armed Forces required.
Leonardo took action early to mitigate the impact on our people and our business. The company procured thousands of extra laptops and invested in network infrastructure to boost the number of people now working remotely.
To further support our key workers, social distancing measures in line with the UK Government’s advice and guidance have been implemented at all sites. These include the introduction of one-way systems, signage on keeping the appropriate distance apart and clearly marked exclusion zones. Hand sanitiser is readily-available to all employees on-site, including at all site entrances and in all production areas.
James Innes, a Lead Software Engineer based in Edinburgh, is one of Leonardo’s team working on-site to ensure the continued support to those serving our country: “I initially worked from home for a week after receiving a laptop which I was able to use effectively for project work. However, I am now back on-site on a reduced shift pattern, and although I had some concerns about returning (as I am sure many people have had / will have), I have felt very safe – much safer than going to some supermarkets for ‘essentials’. The measures the business has put in place regarding safe working have been very good.”
In this Together
A key factor in any UK military operation is the role played by reservists. The military response to Covid-19 is no different, with reservists bringing both their military and civilian training to the operational frontline. Thanks to the flexible working arrangements offered by Leonardo, a number of our reservists have deployed to serve as part of the MoD CSF.
Whether as a reservist, an on-site key worker or one of the thousands working at home, this year more than most, we here at Leonardo are proud to be working alongside our service personnel and to show our appreciation for their selfless commitment during Armed Forces Week.
We are all in this together and together we are working to steer the country back to full health.
We thank you for your service.