How to kill a good news story

Hallelujah, the UK Ministry of Defence has finally announced its commitment to buying Zephyr.

This has been the story that has kept on giving – everyone knew it was a certainty that the MoD planned to purchase the pseudo-satellite but until this week there had been no confirmation. And when they did it was a bit of a media flop.

Following an Airbus Defence and Space briefing last year, one of the company’s representatives let slip that the UK was interested in purchasing and testing the now-infamous Zephyr.

When quizzed for a response, the MoD denied that it was in contract negotiations with Airbus DS, allowing some journalists to lead with the denial.

Later in 2015 the much anticipated SDSR was released with allusion to the Zephyr. Prime Minister David Cameron talked of a surveillance drone that could fly to the edge of the atmosphere – so that’ll be Zephyr then.

Even at a conference this year General Sir Richard Barrons mentioned a pseudo-satellite that would be part of a layered ISR system for Joint Force Command even confirming that he was ‘investing in one particular form’.

The whole thing was starting to become a bit like Area 51 – everyone knows it’s there but no one will acknowledge it. We get it, you’re going to buy one of these things, just make the announcement already.

So the Secretary of State did, during a speech at an ADS dinner, apparently unbeknown to the prime contractor.

The industry partner in question was expecting an announcement later in March and was planning a bit more of a media spectacle to mark the occasion.

The announcement may have lost its media impact due to the way it was slipped out but given the wider media’s expertise on defence matters maybe that’s not a bad thing…


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