Thales unveils Ebbw Vale cyber security research base

Thales stand at naval equipment trade show Image copyright Thales/Q Reytinas
Image caption Naval defence technology being demonstrated at a trade show

A major technology company is setting up a £20m research and development centre in south Wales.

French-owned Thales works in the defence, aerospace and transport industries and already operates from 12 locations elsewhere in the UK.

The planned centre at The Works in Ebbw Vale would be a test bed for digital security innovations.

It said it would offer a "catalyst for regeneration" in the region.

The first 15 people will be in place next month before the full centre is operational by 2021.

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Media captionBusiness manager Leanne Connor's responsibilities will include looking for opportunities

The group is involved in developing highly complicated electrical systems which are used in everything from anti-aircraft systems to cyber security.

The National Digital Exploitation Centre (NDEC) will also involve a tie-up with the University of South Wales.

What is significant about this project is that unlike many other investments, innovative products and systems would be designed here and then companies would have to bid to build them.

This compares with say Airbus, with the wings made in Flintshire but mainly designed in Filton, Bristol.

Bowman, whose tactical system is used by the army is designed in Canada but made in Oakdale, Caerphilly.

This would mean that the most profitable part of new technologies - the owning of the idea - would remain here.

The hope will be that with the intellectual property and expertise based in Wales, it will work as a catalyst to attract manufacturers.

Gareth Williams, UK vice president for secure communications and information systems, who is himself from the area, said: "This will act as a cornerstone of our cyber security capabilities in the UK, providing a test bed for our technology, whilst also providing a catalyst for regeneration in the region."

He added: "A lot of the programmes we deliver are over five, 10, 15 year contracts with our customers so you don't take these decisions lightly, you take long term investment decisions and that's what we've done in Ebbw Vale. We've already got some large international customers."

One of the projects at Ebbw Vale will include Williams engineering - who run the F1 team - working on cyber security research for electric and driverless cars.

Image copyright Denys Liger/THALES
Image caption Thales is involved in flight simulator technology, including for helicopters

Who are Thales?

  • Paris-based group Thales - the French government has a stake - has 64,000 employees across 56 countries
  • It works across five areas - aerospace, space, transport, defence and security - and had revenues of €15.8bn in 2017
  • It has operations at 12 UK locations, including 500 jobs in Northern Ireland at the former Shorts missiles factory
  • It builds satellites and technology in the International Space Station; it is a major provider of air traffic control systems, as well as in-flight entertainment and flight simulators. Airport and cyber security is another key area
  • Its defence technologies range from communication, radar and surveillance to aircraft carriers. It is also involved in urban transport systems - as well as a deal to update London's Tube trains

The Welsh Government has matched the £10m investment from Thales with support. Construction work on the new centre is due to start in the spring and the company hopes to move in there next year.

There are already four people in post, with another 11 set to be recruited.

Image caption Leanne Connor's responsibility will include looking for business opportunities so the centre can be self-sustaining within five years

Leanne Connor has been taken on as business manager - after a long career with Blaenau Gwent council's regeneration department.

"There are skills in Blaenau Gwent and if there aren't then that's the challenge that this project is going to take on," she said.

"We will be looking to develop skills so those future opportunities are offered to local individuals. But certainly I do feel that there is a skills base here which is quite underestimated."

The new Ebbw Vale centre will focus on systems to protect the security of power stations and rail, water, telecoms and air traffic control.

Last May, Thales and the Welsh Government said they would be developing a cyber security centre in Ebbw Vale which is now becoming a reality.

Economy Minister Ken Skates said it would be "right at the heart" of the Welsh Government's Tech Valleys project and he was confident it would create employment in high-value businesses.

"The centre will help ensure that Wales exploits the global opportunities of digital transformation, provide a base for ground-breaking research and will equip businesses of all shapes and sizes with the skills and knowledge they need to win a greater share of large regional and national projects," he said.

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