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Farnborough Arms Fair

Andrew Wood | 27.07.2004 16:59 | Anti-militarism | Globalisation

Farnborough, 19 - 25 July, is rightly the focus of campaigners against the arms trade. Campaign Against Arms Trade was there and this is what happened.

Textron Cluster bomb at Farnborough
Textron Cluster bomb at Farnborough

Welcome to Farnborough

We could have airdropped our leaflet into the Farnborough Airshow on the Saturday 24 July but we decided to do it the hard way. Handing out the ‘Take the arms fair out of the airshow’ leaflets to visitors was Ruth with Leyla, her knee-high daughter. There was Lysa with her smart red and white outfit – Arsenal Football Club would have been proud - emblazoned with ‘Peace’ and ‘Say no to the arms fair’, and the rest of us of course; ten in all. We welcomed the visitors: ‘Hi-ya’, ‘Good morning’, ‘Would you like a leaflet’; we answered their questions, and smiled. This was public engagement. We were surprisingly well received with only a few hostile remarks – the most perceptive being – ‘you’re got a nerve’. Too right we have, we take the courage of our convictions plus the training we’d undertaken a few weeks beforehand and tell it like it is. Farnborough is an armsfair, and it should have no part in a family day out to celebrate flight.

Not far away were the Pretzels, a street theatre group, who accompanied us that day. Dressed as the Red Arrows they proceeded to entertain the steady stream of visitors to the airshow – 110,000 visitors over the weekend. The Pretzel’s dance or flight routine included flashes from the underside of their Hawk jet wings with startling facts about the use of the military aircraft – their use in the horrendous conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo for example.

Leafleting outside the pedestrian entrance riled the organisers of the Airshow. They came out and told us we couldn’t be there. When referred to the police the organisers were informed that we were perfectly within our rights. At first the police were concerned about people chaining themselves to the entrances and asked if we can any handcuffs! The day ended peacefully though, as intended, and we achieved our goal - several thousand visitors have read our leaflet and learned about the arms fair they call an airshow.

Farnborough – it’s the business

The opening day of Farnborough week, this year was on Monday 19 July, is always marked by an announcement of new business deals – some in civil aerospace but many in the military sector. This year it was $9 billion of deals with prominence given to Thales for winning the $1.5 billion WATCHKEEPER UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle) programme – a surveillance plane for the British army. By Tuesday the figure rose to $19 billion as announcements from Geoff Hoon, Secretary of State for Defence, regarding public expenditure were taken as indication of the Government’s commitment to buy the second batch, or tranche as its known, of the Eurofighter Typhoon, as well as Nimrod aircraft. Both are built, at least in part, by BAE systems. While the armed forces may be cutting staff the arms companies are seeing no cuts in orders – quite the opposite. By the end of the week deals worth $20 billion were announced.

At the peaceful demonstration on Monday we marked the first trading day by showing the subsidies given by Government to companies for the sale of arms abroad. So we had a Tony Blair look-alike deliver a huge cheque to the gates at Farnborough showing the £888 million subsidies a year. That’s £13,000 for each job exporting arms each year. That money buys: the 600 staff at in the civil service at the Defence Export Services Organisation (DESO); Export Credit Guarantees for arms exports– cheap insurance if you like; the time of Ministers, Diplomats, Embassies; equipment demonstrations by the armed forces; research and development grants and a lots more. Incidentally Farnborough saw 42 official military delegations visit the show. Our message, on placards and the cheque was ‘Stop Export Subsidies to arms Companies.’ Leaflets, looking like, well, cheques of course, were distributed to visitors of Farnborough’s ‘trade days’, as they’re known. The day ended well. There was lots of police attention including examining our cardboard missile props – just in case they were real – perhaps they should have looked inside the airfield.


Farnborough sees a huge amount of sponsorship and advertisement. All sorts of things can be sponsored including the children’s face painting. Lloyds TSB sponsored the president’s enclosure this year. Many CAAT supporters have written to Lloyds asking them to stop sponsoring an arms fair. But Lloyds continue to insist that Farnborough is not an arms fair. Perhaps they should listen to Secretary of State Geoff Hoon who announced: “Farnborough is an important event in the defence calendar and I am pleased to be here to give my support to the defence industry.” This year CAAT has nominated the Textron Cluster bomb, shown both on the trade and public days of Farnborough, as the most despised weapon.

Picture shows Textron Cluster bomb at Farnborough, more at

Andrew Wood
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Display the following 4 comments

  2. what about the rest of the week — Peejay
  3. DSEi protest — Jim boy
  4. very poor — .