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Britain's arms firms receive enormous government aid, but all too often fail to provide troops with the equipment they need. Barbara Panvel calls for a new approach.

From the FT: "the armed forces should have what they need, not what industry chooses to make".

As the conditions imposed with the recently repaid US post-war loan began to bite, Britain’s manufacturing base gradually declined and we no longer produce many items of the equipment needed by the armed forces. Taxpayers’ money is used to boost exports to conflict zones – often leading to more bloodshed, repression and instability.

The Defence and Security Organisation of the UK Trade and Investment Department [UKTI DSO] promotes sales of armaments abroad and has more staff working on military exports than all other industry–specific trade promotion. It gave practical assistance and political support to the September Arms Fair in London’s Dockland – all financed by taxpayers’ money.

The Defence Industries Council [DIC], an arms industry organisation, is close to ministers and officials from the MoD. Just before the party conference season DIC presented reports and statements by their members, fronted by a former BAE executive.

In a further bid to maintain Government aid, the arms industry has launched two PR campaigns. BAE has used newspaper ads, cartoons on news websites and taxi liveries, featuring the Union Jack. The Campaign Against The Arms Trade offered – tongue-in-cheek - to help.

However the arms industry’s claims for support are ‘shaky’, according to the Financial Times in September, which said that spending on defence is no better at creating jobs than support for other sectors and concludes that the armed forces should have what they need, not what industry chooses to make.

Instead of the political/industrial complex planning to make or import what is needed by the country’s troops, denial is the order of the day: a military press officer sued the Ministry of Defence, claiming that he was forced to tell "government lies" to the families of British soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan, defending the safety of equipment and insisting to bereaved families and the media that the soldiers had been properly equipped when they were killed.

Instead of creating money to bolster the financial sector it is time to retool & reskill this country to provide its goods - the components for public transport, green technologies and retrofitting – and to equip the armed forces properly for justifiable action.

Reports coming in since 2006 indicate that a ‘shopping list’ for military equipment would include:

  • enough satellite phones to go round
  • Land Rovers fitted with electronic counter measures
  • explosive suppressant foam in Hercules aircraft wing fuel tanks
  • enough helicopters suitably equipped for the tasks set and conditions faced, and more – to allow for repairs and maintenance
  • suitably protected tanks fitted with reliable guns [unlike those supplied by BAE Systems in which ‘undemanded fire' caused injury to troops and deaths of Iraqi civilians]
  • good supplies of smaller items like rehydration powders, coolant packs, effective body armour and less toxic pesticide sprays

If all were eventually made in Britain, including the manufacturing of household goods and green technology components, training and employment would be offered to millions.



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