The end of a decade of war and prosperity is proving transformative for the weapons trade as cash-strapped governments are cutting military budgets while defence contractors are shedding jobs and warning of shrinking revenues.
So it is with fortuitous timing – at least for defence companies – that a new enemy is emerging on the world’s stage.
Cyber attacks by well-resourced, highly capable and relentless, usually state-sponsored attackers – so called advanced persistent threats – are growing. (…)
By now almost all the major defence contractors have a cyber element.
Much of the mergers and acquisitions activity over recent years has involved defence companies buying knowhow or the access to new markets. Jane’s Defence calculates that about 14 per cent of defence acquisitions had cyber as their target last year.
In Europe, BAE Systems, Ultra Electronics and Qinetiq have the highest cyber exposure but for most of the group the per cent of revenue they get from cyber remains solidly in the low single-digits.
As their understanding of the market matures, defence companies are beginning to specialise their offering and spread out from their traditional defence customers to other government departments and industry.
Nevertheless, cyber is not the cure for all the defence companies’ traditional ills.
Even Lawrence Prior, executive vice-president at BAE, cautions against breathless excitement.
“There is so much hyperbole around the market. It’s a good market. There’s real growth. But it’s high single-digit, low double-digit growth depending on how you segment the market. It’s not triple-digits growth. This isn’t venture-backed, light-your-hair-on-fire growth.”
Meanwhile, cyber margins are usually well below those companies make for building and servicing defence equipment and parts.
To improve on them, companies such as BAE’s Detica are moving increasingly into offering products, rather than acting largely as consultants.
In doing so, they will have to adapt to a faster moving, more dynamic business than they are used to, says William Beer, PwC’s director of the information and cybersecurity practice.
But, he added: “If they [defence contractors] make the jump into the private sector, they stand a good chance of shaking things up and really, really enhancing everything we do.”