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Farnborough: an arms fair operating alongside a civil aerospace exhibition, obscured by an airshow

Ian Prichard, CAAT’s Research Co-ordinator, describes his day at Farnborough 2010: an arms fair operating alongside a civil aerospace exhibition, all obscured by an airshow.

Finmeccanica's squashed golfball

10.00am – Arrived at Farnborough. My first view is of the vast Finmeccanica exhibition – several buildings including something akin to a squashed-golfball, and plenty of outside space. Helicopters were everywhere, with the odd Eurofighter and drone. Amongst its many business dealings it currently supplies the authoritarian Algerian regime to meet both “battlefield and internal security requirements”, and supplies Turkey with attack helicopters to fight separatist Kurds.

What BAE brings to an airshow

11.00am – Made my way to the opposite end of the exhibition to visit the BAE building. As well as a Eurofighter sitting outside there was a huge howitzer – a strange item for an “airshow”. This was mirrored inside by another artillery piece as well as armoured vehicles. BAE were impossible escape throughout the exhibition, with staff everywhere and adverts featuring schematics of aircraft, tanks and soldiers.

Pakistani-Chinese fighters on export push

12.30pm – Before going to the four main exhibition halls, I walked along the static aircraft display. Set aside from the numerous US military aircraft were two Pakistan-built Chinese JF-17 fighter aircraft (with Russian engines) with a raft of Chinese missiles. The “partial” arms embargo on China obviously didn’t extend to inhibiting an export push of fighter aircraft! So it probably shouldn’t be a surprise that a Chinese military delegation was also invited, though this was mysteriously missing from the initial list of delegations, only being added at the last minute.

MBDA helping out at Futures Day

1.30pm – Near the JF-17s was the base for “Futures Day”, a “new and exciting programme” for 7-21 year olds aimed at “Inspiring Young Minds towards a Career in Aerospace, Defence & Security”. A large number of universities and companies were represented, including MBDA, Europe’s dominant missile producer. Clearly aspirations are different for different people, but aspiring to a MBDA future…!

Branding on the UKTI DSO stand

2.00pm – Went into the main exhibition halls at last, four of them, each with hundreds of companies. In prime position in hall 1 was a large UKTI DSO stand. Two years ago, the stand was smaller and UKTI-only (i.e. focussed on civil aerospace), but this year it was jointly branded. UKTI DSO also had its own private chalet purely for its arms promotion activities. Hosting 40 military delegations and ensuring that companies have the right access to them is not something you would want to do on a shoestring.

Mock-up of Boeing's Phantom Ray armed drone

3.30pm – Kept running into drones, as well as the odd robot. Boeing had a building full of them, there was a specific drone pavillion, and individual companies displayed them in their exhibition space including BAE, Israel Aerospace Industries, Northrop Grumman, Finmeccanica, Thales and QinetiQ. And of course General Atomics, the makers of the CIA’s preferred assassination-drones in Pakistan, were well represented.

The Russian state arms export agency

5.00pm – That was definitely enough for the day. I had one last look round the emptying stands and went out past the Russian arms export agency and contingent of companies, including MiG, Sukhoi and Tactical Missiles Corporation. Time to head for the shuttle bus.

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