The movers and shakers of the Welsh weapons industry will gather on Tuesday 7 April 2009 for the annual Aerolink Wales arms fair. Organisers promise ‘a host of new opportunities for our attendees’ plus a very pleasant stay – at the taxpayers’ expense, of course – in the 4 star Vale of Glamorgan Hotel and Spa.
But just who are the people intent on putting Wales at the forefront of the global arms trade?
First minister, Rhodri Morgan, makes no bones of his support for the Welsh war machine. In early February 2009 he was in north Wales offering support to Saygrove Electronics Ltd, which produces missile systems. Two weeks before that he visited Hawker Beechcraft in Broughton, which makes the spy planes that patrol the skies above Afghanistan and Iraq.
And when the announcement of the new military academy at St Athan was made on the steps of the Senedd in 2007, Rhodri and Welsh politicians from all parties were queuing in front of the TV cameras to express their delight at the £14 billion project, hailed as the saviour of the south Wales economy.
Now that the academy looks doomed to fail, Rhodri and Ieuan ‘deputy dawg’ Wyn Jones, his Plaid Cymru sidekick and minister for enterprise, innovation and networks, will no doubt be using Aerolink 2009 to push for companies to set up at the ParcAberporth UAV technology park near Aberystwyth, where unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), such as the Hermes 450 made by Israeli firm Elbit Systems, are tested. According to the technology park’s website a ‘generous and comprehensive support structure [is] available to occupiers’. By May 2008 £8.7 million of our money had gone towards making Parc Aberporth one of Europe’s leading military testing centres, attracting not just Israeli UAV manufacturers but many others from around the world.
Making sure Rhodri and Ieuan’s pledges are turned into action is the job of Mark Norris, head of aerospace and defence at International Business Wales (IBW), a government department under the direct supervision of Wyn Jones which offers ‘an unrivalled package of skills, sites and support’ to the arms industry. IBW is a main sponsor of Aerolink 2009 so Mr Norris will, no doubt, be courted by representatives of arms manufacturers from around the world eager for handouts. Yet far from providing the ‘unbiased’ eye of a civil servant out to get the best deal for the taxpayer, Norris is indisputably on the side of the arms industry, demonstrated by the fact that he just happens to be a director of Aerospace Wales Forum Ltd (AWF), a private lobbying company – yet in receipt of public money – run by CEO John Whalley, whose thirty years of experience at BAE Systems, the UK’s premier arms manufacturer, put him and his lobbying outfit at the heart of the Welsh arms industry.
Politicians and manufacturers would be lost without the research and development (R&D) expertise of Wales’ top universities. Cardiff and Swansea universities have received at least £7 million of public money to help private companies develop their weapons capability. In addition, Bangor and Aberystwyth universities (along with Swansea) got £17 million of taxpayers’ money last year to work on the Tyciant project which aims to develop further UAV technologies.
Getting our children involved in the war effort is the task of John Steele, University of Glamorgan academic, director of AWF and representative of the Society of British Aerospace Companies (SBAC). At a Welsh assembly science policy review meeting in 2005 Mr Steele, in his role as ‘coordinating and implementing a Welsh academic and skills aerospace strategy,’ declared the national curriculum as ‘too prescriptive and too soft’. His solution? ‘Mathematics, Science and Innovative skills must underpin any future education system’. Fellow AWF director John Whalley’s former employer, BAE Systems, has taken Steele’s words to heart by opening an ‘education’ centre at its Glascoed bomb-making factory where primary school children are promised ‘a unique learning experience to bring the subject of World War 2 to life’.
Luckily the children can leave the bomb factory and go home at the end of the day. Not so fortunate were air cadets Nikkita Walters and Katie-Jo Davies, the teenage cousins from Gilfach Goch, killed above the skies of St Athan during one of the RAF’s ‘First Flight experiences‘.
As Rhodri Morgan, Ieuan Wyn Jones, Mark Norris, John Whalley and John Steele cut deals over wine and canapés at Aerolink Wales 2009, dreaming of the world’s biggest and brashest training camp, serving the armies and airforces of the world, we wonder if any of them will pause to remember Nikkita and Katie-Jo…