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Qinetiq announces UK layoffs, US sales

Techies bailing out with GPS-assisted parachutes

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Controversial war-boffinry spinoff firm Qinetiq has announced a contract to sell a US-designed precision-parachute system to the RAF, just as it decided to eject 400 of its UK staff. The layoffs came the same day it announced a rise in interim sales and profits.

The Times quotes Graham Love, Qinetiq CEO, as saying: "We are restructuring this business so that we can accelerate the growth. We are certainly upskilling the organisation."

Qinetiq's revenues in the UK are considerable, mostly coming from the Ministry of Defence. However, they are not sufficient to pay the firm's costs. As a recent, damning report into the privatisation made clear, Qinetiq bought up several profitable US firms in the run-up to its own flotation.

Love told the Financial Times last year that he had managed to buy up American tech companies that were not interested in selling because he had convinced them that Qinetiq was an innovative group of inventors, not a normal defence monster firm.

"We're a company made up of scientists and engineers doing clever things," Mr Love - a chartered accountant - said.

"It's very different from being a prime contractor or a manufacturer, it's a different ethos."

It is the revenue from these acquisitions, according to the UK National Audit Office, which enables Qinetiq to support its army of former UK government workers and make a modest profit overall.

Qinetiq has just reported revenues up 18.5 per cent to £638m for the 6 months ending September 30. Pre-tax profit rose 9.3 per cent to £25.9m, principally driven by sales of the US-made Talon bomb-disposal robot.

Now the company plans to let go 400 of those UK employees. Love told the Times the redundancies would mostly be administrative and support staff, and that he planned to be a net recruiter of scientists, hiring 400 of them in the coming year.

"It is not clear who will go yet, but we will run a restructuring and redundancy programme," he said.

The company also announced that another of its US acquisitions, Planning Systems Inc, had won a US$1.7m contract from the Royal Air Force to supply five of its Precision Airdrop Systems (PADS™) to be used in RAF transport planes, as well as associated training and tech support.

PADS is a package which enhances the accuracy of parachute-dropped supplies. Normally, aircraft must fly low in order to get paradropped supplies anywhere near the point of aim, but in places like Afghanistan this isn't a good idea.

PADS equipped aircraft can drop a "wind sonde" before releasing the supplies, which gives an up to date picture of the winds blowing above the target location. The data is relayed to software in a laptop computer in the aircraft cargo bay, which calculates an optimum dropoff location so that parachuted supplies will be carried close to where they're wanted, even from high altitudes.

US forces also use GPS-guided robot-steered parachutes for even better accuracy - indeed these were being successfully used well before PADS was first deployed in 2006 - but the RAF isn't buying those for now.

PADS would also be helpful, of course, for conducting high-altitude jumps by human parachutists, a ploy often favoured by special forces.

Meanwhile it seems that a fair number of people may be bailing out from Qinetiq. If significantly fewer than 400 scientists are to be fired, and it will require 400 new scientists to keep Qinetiq's scientist force growing, it seems clear that noticeable numbers of boffins are leaving of their own accord. ®

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