Privately-owned military technology firm QinetiQ will be supporting the US and NATO countries with an upcoming military defense exercise. The firm develops and supplies a wide range of defence hardware and software, including to Ukraine.
The Military Embedded Systems website reported on 18 May:
The forthcoming exercise will see a boost in multi-nation participation, with more than 20 ships, 35 aircraft, and nearly 4000 military personnel from 13 nations participating in live weapons and defense rehearsal scenarios, according to [QinetiQ’s] statement.
But what do we need to know about QinetiQ? While it’s a relatively little-known UK company, it’s important to note that it has a close, ongoing contractual relationship with the UK’s Ministry of Defence (MoD). Moreover, its largest single shareholder provides significant financial support to the governing Conservative Party, along with former Tory prime minister Boris Johnson.
QinetiQ has a “business presence in the UK, Canada, the US, Australia, Belgium, Germany, Sweden, and the UAE”. A detailed look on its website showed no suggestion that the company referred to itself an arms trader, or that it is involved in offensive scenarios. Yet it’s clear from descriptions of its technologies that it is not restricted to defensive systems.
conduct a range of missions, including chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear and explosive (CBRNE)
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Moreover, statistics show that the company did well during the first six months of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. In November 2022, Sharecast published a 12-month assessment of QinetiQ’s finances, up to September 2022. This period coincides with the Russian invasion of Ukraine which began in February 2022.
Sharecast reported that QinetiQ’s underlying revenue for that period:
jumped 12% to £673.4m, while operating profits rose to £74.1m from £53.4m a year previously. [Emphasis added]
The assessment added that orders during April – September 2022 “jumped 18% to £798.8m”, and “operating profits came in at £100.1m, against £41m”.
While a company like QinetiQ increasing its profits during a war is not surprising, a potential cause for concern is the company’s links to the MoD. More concerning still is that QinetiQ’s largest single shareholder has a long history of providing donations to the Conservative Party.
According to the Daily Telegraph, Thailand-based tycoon Christopher Harborne, aka Chakrit Sakunkrit, is the largest single investor of QinetiQ. He was listed on the leaked Panama Papers database which revealed details of thousands of accounts in tax haven territories.
Moreover, the Daily Telegraph reported that QinetiQ was formed in 2001 as a spin-off of the MoD’s Defence Evaluation and Research Agency. This would perhaps explain how it gets so many major government contracts.
QinetiQ is in a interesting position in that it is a private company, yet it has had a close working relationship from the outset with the MoD. Earlier this year, MoD awarded QinetiQ a contract worth £80m over a 10-year period. Little is known about the project, except that it provides:
a specialist mission data and electronic warfare skills solution alongside training and IT support.
Other QinetiQ contracts with the MoD have included:
- A 2018 deal for the provision of “engineering services” worth an eye-watering £2.5bn.
- The supply of lasers for the DragonFire energy beam, trialled at the secretive Porton Down research centre.
- £32m for the Future Combat Air System.
As openDemocracy reported in January, Harborne donated £1m to a Boris Johnson shell company, known as ‘The Office Of Boris Johnson Ltd’. That company lists the former PM as the majority shareholder and a “person with significant control”.
Johnson declared Harborne’s donation in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests:
Name of donor: Christopher Harborne
Address of donor: private
Amount of donation or nature and value if donation in kind: £1,000,000 to The Office of Boris Johnson Ltd
Date received: 21 November 2022
Date accepted: 21 November 2022
Donor status: individual
(Registered 16 December 2022)
Harborne has also donated £1.8m to the Conservative Party.
In 2021, the Canary reported that defence secretary Ben Wallace previously worked for QinetiQ as its overseas director, security and intelligence. There’s also speculation that Johnson may intend to use Harborne’s donation to help relaunch his parliamentary career.
Meanwhile, questions remain about Harborne’s financial support to the Conservative Party and to Johnson.
Such questions are particularly relevant given QinetiQ’s ongoing relationship with the MoD, and its related effects on global populations.
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