News story

Army soldiers support Defence Exports

A group of 30 Army personnel are part way through a secondment with the UK Trade and Investment Defence and Security Organisation where they are supporting UK businesses exporting defence products to foreign investors. Report by Leigh Hamilton.

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The Export Support Team (EST) is located at two bases, Larkhill and Bovington, where 26 soldiers and four officers perform a range of tasks including support for exhibitions overseas and in the UK, production of media materials and after-sales training and support.

With exhibition support being the main focus for these personnel, a lot of their time is spent manning stands with British companies who are showcasing their equipment. But that doesn’t mean they are just standing about smiling.

The soldiers provide the companies with a trustworthy, educated voice on kit that is either already being used by British forces, or inventions that are new to the market.

Authoritative military advice can help facilitate million-pound deals for UK companies.

But doesn’t this sound like our servicemen and women are being paraded around like a model in a car showroom?

According to the EST’s Officer Commanding, Lieutenant Colonel Robin Bolton, the answer to that question is a definite ‘no’:

We have to be careful that we’re not the salesmen, the companies are there to sell their own equipment. We are working on behalf of government.

We are seconded from the Ministry of Defence to do that and the benefit to MOD is such that it is worth having the soldier there as a front man giving the customer, the end user, advice not as a salesman.

Warrant Officer Class 2 Rob Daniels runs the Plants and Logistics Team within the EST and is also keen to eradicate the belief that the team acts as salespeople for private companies:

We don’t sell, that’s the key point. We support companies who do the selling; we just lend the military support to them when needed.

Now that issue has been straightened out, how does the MOD benefit from 30 of its personnel working with another government department?

Lieutenant Colonel Bolton explained:

If there’s a production run of artillery rounds for instance that the British Army needs for its own use, if we can be part of the effort that leads to another country buying the same sort of round, then the unit price per shell will go down for the British customer.

Surveillance Target Acquisition Sergeant within the EST, Sergeant Paul Tarpey concurred:

I think personnel being in roles like this benefits the MOD because of the experience that soldiers are getting. I can go back and advise my regiment on knowledge of the future capabilities that are on the market that people will not know about unless they’re in a job like this.

It is also beneficial because money is coming back into the system because we’re not doing anything for free, we’re not doing any favours, they’re paying for our services.

Another aspect of the EST’s role is to offer after-sales training. With their in-depth knowledge of the equipment they are demonstrating, the military personnel are often paid to travel to carry out training for the individuals who will be using the items.

It seems a posting supporting the British defence industry can be a far cry from serving on the front line in Afghanistan, as exhibitions can take personnel to more glamorous locations such as Dubai, Paris or India. But, as WO2 Daniels explained:

I received a brief on it by my predecessor who painted a picture of foreign travel and palm trees and sunny beaches, but it’s not like that.

You do get to visit some interesting places that you may not have seen otherwise, but at the same time it’s hard work and you’re always focused on why you’re there, what you’re there to achieve and who you’re supporting.

This article is taken from the November 2012 issue of Defence Focus - the magazine for everyone in Defence.

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Published 15 November 2012