ESD met with FNH UK during the 2019 Dismounted Close Combat Exhibition, Demonstration and Seminar at Shrivenham (part of Cranfield University), England, leading to this interview with Glyn Bottomley, CEO of FNH UK. Belgium-based Herstal Group is a world leader in Defence/Security – the FN Herstal brand – and Hunting & Sports Shooting – the Browning and Winchester brands.
ESD: Historically, FN Herstal has had a low profile in the UK. Do you agree with this statement and what is the company doing about it?
Bottomley: Well, historically FNH has had a strong position in the UK in regard to being a weapons supplier to the UK, but FN has indeed to reinforce its position for the wider range of Systems products that the Group has to offer. One of the strategic aims of FN Herstal acquiring Manroy Engineering in 2014 was precisely to establish a UK foothold that FNHerstal could use as a basis to promote the wider range of FN capabilities and products to UK MoD. As part of this plan, FNHerstal has been investing significantly into FNH UK since the acquisition to vastly increase the capability of FNH UK, which has been successful to date, and now we’ve got to move it forward to a new level.
ESD: The majority of your activities as far as FNH UK is concerned are aimed at the UK market. Do you do also export?
Bottomley: We have an established export market. At the moment the majority of our activity is export, including supplying inter-company in full synergy with FNHerstal headquarters in Belgium. Also, FNH UK is the only manufacturer of complete machine guns (both HMG and GPMG) left in the UK; we continue to support the UK MoD in terms of all our Heavy Machine Guns (HMG), providing contractual spares, support and technical advice and the weapons themselves. We’re the sole supplier to UK MoD and have been since 1988, providing about 3,000 HMGs to date. We continue to supply all the spares and training and support that the UK MoD needs to keep the weapon in service. So as stated, our overall aim is to increase our business within the UK by investing to be in a position to provide our full range of System products, beyond just machine guns, and the expertise to support integration, whilst also developing new technologies to support customer needs.
ESD: FN Herstal is globally recognised as a manufacturer of small arms. What else does FNH UK bring to the table?
Bottomley: The Herstal Group , the parent company of FN Herstal, has a wonderful 130 year heritage, and of course the foundation of the business continues to be as the premier weapons manufacturer; but as the business has evolved over the last decade or so it is very focussed on Systems activities in all aspects relating to weapons. The aim now is for FNH UK to promote and bring the vast array of weapon systems, technology and innovation that the group has to offer, and to be able to promote that to the UK to fulfil some of the UK MoD’s requirements. I think probably the UK MoD has not had complete visibility of the full range of Herstal Group products – which also includes the ‘Browning’ and ‘Winchester’ brands and an ammunition manufacturing facility in Belgium. The job now is to elevate the business “FNH UK” to a level where the MoD have access to these products and can see them and understand what we’re offering, and the large amount of R&D funding that is going into designing and developing innovative products such as weapon systems or new small- calibre cartridges. Some examples of those other activities of FN Herstal were displayed at the Dismounted Close Combat Symposium in Shrivenham, which included the Fire Control Unit for the 40mm grenade launcher, the 40mm grenade launcher itself, FN Expert (marksmanship trainer) and less lethal ideas as well. The marksmanship training system, FN EXPERT, is currently being demonstrated to the UK MoD to meet some of their lower end training needs. Soon we’ll be able to demonstrate some of the technologies that will enhance that system, using Virtual Reality technology. The Less Lethal systems we provide are being offered to UK police and law enforcement and on into UK MoD programmes. The 40 mm grenade Launcher Fire Control Unit has been sold for export: it’s a well-established product, and now we’re promoting it into the UK as well. So, along with all the sea, land and air systems – including Remote Weapon Stations – FN has a very wide range of products that can fulfil a lot of weapon system requirements.
ESD: You mentioned FN Herstal’s R&D investment. How will that affect FNH UK’s operation?
Bottomley: It will in a number of ways. In recent years FN Herstal has invested a high percentage of their revenue into R&D – tens of millions of Euros every year – to expand its range of products and services, and meet challenging market demands and requirements, today and in the future. The design teams at FNH UK are used to support the “central” R&D, so we do some of the R&D in the UK in cooperation with FNHerstal. That also gives us access to pre-production products that can be tested, evaluated and demonstrated in the UK, within reason. Plus for our UK business to be involved in a culture of innovation and research and development of new products is very positive.
ESD: In terms of its overall output FN Herstal, or FN as a group, has roughly a 50:50 balance between military and police, and the civil markets. At the moment there could be said to be a window of opportunity between now and the end of this year in terms of the military market and the UK’s new Defence Fund. How do you expect to respond to that from an FNH UK perspective?
Bottomley: This is an exciting and interesting period in the UK, and the latest information presented at the Dismounted Close Combat symposium showed in detail the UK’s establishment of budgets and programmes to deliver Transformation. The budgets for the next 10 years, particularly for Dismounted Close Combat, are an area we’re already involved in as a small arms supplier. Our job now is to promote ourselves, to build some awareness to let the programmers know about the products and innovations we can bring to the party. We want to be involved as FNH UK in our own right, not only to deliver a new level of products but also to establish a new level of customer support in the UK, for the UK. We’re also comfortable exploring opportunities through partnering, mergers or acquisitions, and part of that is changing perceptions regarding our own business. This is a strategy we are planning right now, and we’re looking at investing in FNH UK’s capability and infrastructure to increase our profile, professionalism and the customer support that we can offer to the UK.
ESD: Thank you.
The Interview was conducted by Stephen Barnard.