Strategic Sale

Airbus to Flog Defense Business

Airbus Chefs. DPA
Denis Ranque (l), Airbus'chairman of the board of directors, and CEO Thomas Enders are cleaning house.
  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    CEO Tom Enders decided to overhaul the company after the German government kiboshed the merger of Airbus’ defense division with Britain’s BAE Systems.

  • Facts


    • Airbus wants to retreat from potentially lucrative fields including border security and police communications.
    • The areas put up for sale are the result of a yearlong strategic review.
    • After its defense streamlining, the company will only build items such as fighter jets, transport planes, helicopters and missiles.
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Defending a country these days isn’t an easy proposition – the potential threats are manifold.

Your enemy could, like in Ukraine, attack in classic manner with tanks and artillery. Or they could sneak terrorists across your borders, who crash the Internet to endanger public security. Countering the second threat is a business worth billions, and one that was expected to play an important future role for Airbus.

But this potential market no longer exists for the aviation giant. Airbus chief executive Tom Enders announced on Tuesday what he called the “logical follow-up” of his yearlong strategic review.

The Airbus Group will put several businesses with a combined annual turnover of €2 billion up for sale, including government and police communications, as well as its holding in Atlas Electronik, a leading German supplier of naval technology. “Further options” are being explored for its radar division and Optronics, a specialized firm for targeting systems, which means it also essentially has no future in the company.

Airbus is ruthlessly refocusing its defense business. In the future, the company will only focus on military hardware such as fighter jets, helicopters and missiles. Among those are the classics: the Eurofighter, transport aircraft such as the A 400M, and missiles from MBDA. The company will stay clear in the future of cutting-edge fields such as border security, public safety networks or cyber security.

Things once looked much different. Stefan Zoller, who was the head of the defense division until September 2012, wanted to make the business more independent from military hardware. Airbus Defense and Space (at the time still EADS Cassidian), was supposed to be developed into a place for projects, which would sell complete border security systems. Mr. Zoller hoped to make billions in South America and the Middle East. The aim was to become independent of the Eurofighter, which will likely run out of orders by the end of the decade.

The project initially went well. With massive support from the German government, Mr. Zoller got contracts for border security in Romania, Saudi Arabia and Qatar. He arranged a joint venture with the Brazilian conglomerate Odebrecht to win contracts worth billions of euros for security projects surrounding the 2014 FIFA World Cup and the 2016 Olympic Games. In order to be able to offer the necessary technology, Mr. Zoller bought, among others things, the security division of Nokia and Optronics from Zeiss.

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