French plunder Cobham’s aerospace business in £850m deal

French plunder Cobham’s aerospace business in £850m deal as break-up of the British defence group continues

The break-up of the British defence group Cobham has continued as its aerospace business was yesterday sold by its US private equity owners.

French manufacturing firm Thales bought Cobham Aerospace Communications in a £850million deal.

The Paris-based division, part of the Cobham group since 1989, makes antennas and communication systems for aircraft and is expected to generate about £154million in revenues this year.

The acquisition, set to close next year, adds to the number of Cobham units sold by US private equity giant Advent International since it bought the group for £4billion in 2019.

Although the Government scrutinised whether the takeover was a risk to national security, it gave it the go-ahead.

Sell-off: French manufacturing firm Thales bought Cobham Aerospace Communications in a £850m deal

It means seven business arms of Cobham have now been sold off since 2019, with one unnamed analyst labelling Advent’s actions as ‘despicable’ and ‘asset-stripping at its worst’. 

Founded in 1934 by Sir Alan Cobham, who pioneered the technology that allows planes to refuel in the air, the firm originally specialised in aerospace manufacturing, holding contracts with the British military. 

Lady Cobham, the daughter-in-law of its founder, previously expressed her concerns about the ‘auctioning off’ UK’s high-tech defence firms – especially in the wake of the invasion of Ukraine.

Last night she said she was unsurprised. ‘I always thought that Cobham would be sold off bit by bit.

‘In spite of assurances by Advent to the contrary, this is exactly what is happening.’

The company had 10,000 employees, with 1,700 in the UK. But since going private, most of the empire has been sold, leaving it with no manufacturing in the UK.

Advent has raised £5.4billion through the steady dismantling of the group, leading to some critics suggesting that Cobham is a ‘cautionary tale’ for British firms looking to sell up to US private equity sharks.

Cobham was the first in a succession of deals targeting some of Britain’s most cutting-edge firms, including satellite maker Inmarsat and aerospace firm Meggitt – both sold to private equity firms.

Danni Hewson, analyst at AJ Bell, said: ‘It’s sad but not surprising to see the once-great Cobham empire being sliced and diced.

‘With many UK companies drawing admiring glances from would-be suitors this might prove a cautionary tale.’

Boston-based Advent also scooped up British defence firm Ultra Electronics.

The £2.6billion acquisition in 2022 came after months of discussions over whether the producer of sensitive nuclear submarine systems should be sold to a foreign buyer.

Advent agreed to conditions that were required by the Government before it gave the deal a green light. 

They included protecting existing jobs, maintaining a UK headquarters and boosting investment.