More than 100 jobs have been secured at a Belfast plant with a new Ministry of Defence (MoD) contract to maintain an air defence system.
Thales won the £98.4 million contract, supporting 119 jobs, to maintain short-range air defence (Shorad) for the British Army and Royal Marines.
Shorad is made up of high velocity and lightweight multi-role missile systems that can intercept air threats including fast jets, attack helicopters and unmanned air systems in a matter of seconds.
Philip McBride, general manager at Thales Belfast, said it followed previous contracts and extends to 2026.
“Thales has supplied weapons systems to the UK MoD for 60 years,” he told the PA news agency.
“This equipment includes shoulder launchers, tripod launchers, vehicle boost launchers and the management of the firing camps that the MoD run.”
Mr McBride said the plant had learned a lot about the equipment, how it is utilised and its maintenance which he said puts the firm in a “great position” for what happens beyond 2026.
“This isn’t just about the sustaining of the workforce on this contract, it’s about preparing the way for what happens after this contract,” he said.
Thales employs more than 550 people at its Belfast plant and also has a “sizeable” workforce in the south-west of England.
Mr McBride said the Thales operation in Belfast had “grown substantially” in recent years, “primarily down to investing in the business at the right time”.
“Thales UK has come close to trebling our revenue in the last six to seven years,” he said.
“Our workforce has grown from around 400 to 550 in Belfast alone.”
Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis welcomed the announcement.
“During these uncertain times, I am delighted that the investment of over £98 million will protect over 100 skilled jobs in Belfast. I would like to congratulate all those involved who have secured this vital investment,” he said.
Defence minister procurement Jeremy Quin described the contract as ensuring that vital air defence capabilities, capable of dealing with a multitude of threats, are maintained and readily available to deploy.
“The £98.4m investment is the second major contract awarded to Northern Ireland’s defence industry in less than three months, highlighting Northern Ireland’s important contribution to the delivery of our critical defence capabilities,” he said.
In January, Spirit AeroSystems in Belfast won a £30 million contract for the UK’s first uncrewed fighter aircraft, supporting over 100 local jobs.