Cobham completes record deal with £548m capture of US outfit Aeroflex

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Defence firm Cobham unveiled the biggest deal in its history yesterday with a swoop for the US maker of wireless systems used in medical scanners and components for the robotic arm on NASA’s Mars Rover.

The Dorset-based business, which is best known for making systems that allow planes to refuel in mid-air and antennae for fighter jets, is to pay £548m for Aeroflex, as well as take on £321m in debt, as it continues to snap up high-end electronics firms.

Cobham, which employs 10,000 workers covering the commercial, defence and security markets, also makes systems that run radio communications on the Airbus A350 aircraft and on yachts in the Volvo Ocean Race.

Chief executive Bob Murphy said the deal was in line with its strategy of buying firms in industries that “increasingly demand more data, connectivity and bandwidth”.

The deal is the biggest in Cobham’s 80-year history and comes after it bought Danish satellite telecoms group Thrane & Thrane for £275m in 2012 and Axell Wireless for up to £85m last year. It has been trying to expand into commercial markets to make up for declining defence spending from US and European governments.

Aeroflex, founded in 1937 and based in New York, employs 2,600 people and achieved earnings of £46.6m on sales of £261m in the nine months to the end of March.

The business, which has a wireless and microwave testing plant in Stevenage, sells 4G technology and is developing 5G networks for the next generation of smartphones and tablets.