MORE than 300 North East jobs will be supported if a new contract to make tanks is awarded to international engineering giant BAE Systems.
A Government decision on which company will win the £3bn contract to build a new battlefield vehicle is due to be taken by March.
BAE Systems is one of two firms competing for the work and its plant on Scotswood Road, Newcastle, which makes armoured vehicles and is earmarked to handle a chunk of the work for 600 FRES Specialist Vehicles (light tanks).
BAE visited the region yesterday to talk to companies in the supply chain who could be invited to bid for work worth over £100m if BAE succeeds.
Robin Fox is managing director of Northern Defence Industries, which organised the supply chain event with BAE at Newcastle Falcons ground in Gosforth.
He said: “The North East is very strong in the defence sector, with our fabrication skills, electronics and specialist communication companies well-placed to secure some of the sub-contracted work.”
Around 150 companies from the UK attended the event with about three- quarters of these based in the region.
BAE which employs around 600 people at its Newcastle plant recently said it was going to axe 217 of these posts, but later added that if it won the FRES contract,105 of these jobs would be saved. And the contract could support jobs for 200 workers.
However with the public finances in a sorry state and a General Election looming there is some concern on whether the Ministry of Defence will proceed with the FRES SV contract.
A spokeswoman said: “The decision on which of the two preferred bidders has been awarded the contract is due to be announced in the next few weeks. The project is still on track.”
Mr Fox remains optimistic, he said: “In such a difficult economic environment, the Government will come under pressure to cut the defence budget. However we need to ensure the programme goes ahead.”
He went on to say the Scimitar and Scorpion vehicles the FRES SV will replace are in some cases 35 years old.
BAE Systems is competing with General Dynamics for the contract which will see £3bn spent on FRES SV vehicles.
BAE Systems is a global defence, security and aerospace company products and services for air, land and naval forces, as well as advanced electronics, security, information technology solutions and customer support services. With 100,000 employees worldwide, annual sales exceed £18.5bn.