At a short ceremony attended by the Rt Hon Carwyn Jones AM, First Minister of Wales, Philip Dunne MP, Minister for Defence Procurement, and Alun Cairns MP, Wales Office Minister, representatives of the British Army and other local dignitaries, the facility was declared open and reaffirms the UK’s proud history of developing and manufacturing AFVs.
The facility was dedicated in the memory of famous Welshman, Sir Tasker Watkins. Born in Nelson, Caerphilly, which is a short distance from Merthyr Tydfil, Sir Tasker earned the Victoria Cross during the Second World War for his gallantry in the face of the enemy. Following the war, he served Wales with equal distinction in many different roles, including as President of the Welsh Rugby Union.
The Rt Hon Carwyn Jones AM, First Minister of Wales, said: “Today’s news is great for Merthyr and great for Wales. We’ve built a strong and close working relationship with General Dynamics – one of our anchor companies – and we have supported a number of their key projects that have brought new work and technology to Wales and created hundreds of new jobs.
“I am delighted we were able to support this latest, strategically important, investment and welcome the considerable associated economic benefits it will create.”
Philip Dunne, Minister for Defence Procurement, commented: “The opening of this new facility is a major development for both Merthyr Tydfil and the British Army. It is another reminder of the importance of Defence investment right across the UK: the AJAX programme alone is sustaining 2,800 jobs across the country, 550 of which are here in Wales.
“This new facility, like the next generation vehicle it will produce, is more evidence of our £178 billion commitment to provide our Armed Forces with the equipment they need. Thanks to the close partnership between the UK Government and industry, this site will spring back in to life as a significant centre of employment and bring in valuable skills with a lasting legacy for the entire region.”
Alun Cairns MP, Wales Office Minister, remarked: “The UK government is determined to see as many MoD projects designed, built and manufactured here in the UK.
“General Dynamics’ decision to bring the assembly, integration and testing of AJAX vehicles to south Wales is an enormous vote of confidence in the skills and expertise of the workforce here in Merthyr Tydfil. This grows the defence footprint in Wales and is an excellent example of the UK and Welsh Governments working together in the interests of the Welsh economy.
“The Welsh manufacturing sector is surging from strength to strength. Today’s event showcases the invaluable contribution our home-grown talent is making in the provision of first-class protection and support to the brave men and women working in front line situations around the world.”
Kevin Connell, vice president of General Dynamics Land Systems-UK, said: “Today’s inauguration reaffirms our commitment to delivering world-leading AFVs to the British Army from the UK, and firmly establishes Wales as the home of the UK’s AFV industry. I’d like to thank the UK Government, Welsh Government, local council and community for its support as we establish a facility that we can all be proud of, which will lead the way in the delivery of a cutting-edge, fully-digitised fleet of vehicles for the British Army.”
Commenting on the dedication of the facility in the memory of Sir Tasker Watkins, Kevin Connell said: “Sir Tasker put his service to his men and country before his own safety during the Second World War, and his gallantry deserves to be continually remembered. Today’s dedication was our way of honouring his memory, and recognising the service of our Armed Forces, who serve our country with distinction every day.”
The new facility will support the creation of 250 new jobs, whilst the entire AJAX programme directly supports approximately 2,800 jobs across the UK at more than 210 UK-based companies. General Dynamics Land Systems-UK will begin initial, limited recruitment for the new facility later this year, with further significant recruitment taking place in mid-2017.