Marconi Electronic Systems

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Marconi Electronic Systems (MES), or GEC-Marconi as it was until 1998, was the defence arm of The General Electric Company (GEC). It was demerged from GEC and acquired by British Aerospace (BAe) on November 30 1999 to form BAE Systems. GEC then renamed itself to Marconi plc.

Organisation

History

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GEC-Marconi logo, circa 1980s

MES represented the pinnacle of GEC's defence businesses which have a heritage of almost 100 years. GEC's history of military products dates back to World War I with its contribution to the war effort then including radios and bulbs. World War II consolidated this position with the company involved in many important technological advances, most notably radar.

Between 1945 and GEC's demerger of its defence business in 1999, the company became one of the world's most important defence contractors. GEC's major defence related acquisitions included Associated Electrical Industries in 1967, English Electric (including its Marconi subsidiary) in 1968, Ferranti's defence business in 1990 and Vickers Shipbuilding and Engineering in 1995. In June 1998, MES acquired Tracor, a major American defence contractor, for $1.4bn.

Since October 1998, reports had been linking BAe with the German aerospace group DASA. GEC was even seen as a potential partner in a three-way merger with BAe and DASA.

In December 1998, reports emerged that GEC was seeking a partner for MES, the value of which was greatly increased by the Tracor acquisition. Prospective partners included Thomson-CSF (by 1998 on the path to privatisation) and various American defence contractors (e.g. Lockheed Martin and TRW). GEC had already been active in pursing consolidation in the defence business. In 1997 it made an ultimately unsuccessful proposal to the French government to the privatise Thomson-CSF and merge it with MES.

The prospect of a merger of UK companies soon became the most likely development. In mid January 1999, GEC and BAe confirmed they were holding talks and on January 19 it was announced that BAe was to acquire MES for 7.7bn ($12.75bn).

While MES was responsible for the majority of GEC's defence sales other GEC companies achieved defence related sales, principally GEC Alsthom, GEC-Plessy Telecommunications (GPT) and GEC Plessey Semiconductors.

Major projects

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