Her Royal Highness the Princess Royal performed the official opening of the National Maritime Systems Centre (NMSC) on Monday. The Centre represents a £30 million investment from QinetiQ and the Solent Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) to provide a modern working environment to attract critical skills and a hub for technological advances in the maritime environment in support of the Royal Navy.
During her visit, the Princess Royal enjoyed demonstrations of some of the critical work carried out at the NMSC in its new secure facilities. Three demonstrations, provided by QinetiQ’s recent graduate and apprentice intake, illustrated the complex systems engineering work being done for the Royal Navy. The Princess Royal saw how the facilities are using a mixture of real equipment and synthetic environments to derisk the introduction of new combat system equipment into service and how those same facilities can also be used to support new technologies such as autonomy and to provide training to the Royal Navy operators.
She was welcomed by Nigel Atkinson, lord-lieutenant of Hampshire, Neil Johnson, chairman of QinetiQ and Steve Fitz-Gerald, group managing director, QinetiQ maritime & land. Following the unveiling of the plaque to commemorate the day, the Princess Royal spent time with RAdm Andrew Burns and Cdre Kevin Noakes, representing the Royal Navy.
Solent LEP and HM Government’s Local Growth Fund have funded The Innovation and Collaboration Hub (ICH), part of the NMSC. This will offer opportunities for Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (SMEs) to collaborate with QinetiQ and other tenants at Portsdown Technology Park in developing maritime engineering and complex mission systems. In the ICH the Princess Royal met Brian Johnson, chair of Solent LEP and Mark Pembleton, economic growth manager for Portsmouth City Council.
The state-of-the-art offices and trial areas at the NMSC are capable of delivering complex maritime systems engineering support to UK Defence. Portsdown Technology Park includes over £100m of equipment and facilities to assist all major classes of Royal Navy warships and, by reducing the demand on ship time for tests and trials, creates significant savings for UK Defence. The facilities can provide end-to-end and over the air testing for combat and communication systems for existing ships and, in the future, new warships being developed as part of the National Shipbuilding Strategy. The need for such facilities will only increase as technology evolves and naval forces experience a constant need to adapt – something Fitz-Gerald was keen to highlight in his opening speech.
As part of the LEP agreement, QinetiQ will develop its combat system engineering courses, which provide specialist training for MOD and industry, at the NMSC. The centre also offers the opportunity for QinetiQ to strengthen its links to wider higher and further education establishments such as the Portsmouth and Southampton Universities, Portsmouth University Technical College and the South Coast Marine Cluster. QinetiQ has already begun hosting local Royal Navy cadet organisations to give those looking at a career in the Royal Navy a taste of warship operations.
Fitz-Gerald, QinetiQ group managing director, maritime & land, said: “I was delighted to welcome HRH the Princess Royal to officially open the NMSC today. The NMSC is well-positioned to contribute to the goals of the Government’s Integrated Review, particularly through its support of the Royal Navy in developing new equipment, while building on the foundations of Portsdown’s 50 years’ experience in warship delivery. Now open, it’s set to greatly contribute both to the UK’s maritime capabilities, as well as to the local area. We are looking forward to our continued work with Solent LEP.”
Anne-Marie Mountifield, chief executive and board director at the Solent LEP said: “We’re delighted to see the centre open for business. The scale of our investment will reach far into the local community, and will support SMEs to create jobs as well as cement the Solent region’s reputation as being a world-class hub for the marine and maritime sector.”
The construction of the building and its internal fitting was completed on time, despite the limitations caused by Covid-19, through the close working partnership between QinetiQ and VolkerFitzpatrick.