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Letters: Reality check for defence industry

The job losses at BAE Systems obviously came as a shock to its employees and outside observers, but were entirely predictable (BAE announces plans to cut 3,000 jobs, blaming defence budget cuts, 28 September). For years BAE and successive governments have colluded to promote the myth that weapons production was a British success story, despite the increasingly desperate attempts to compete in a shrinking market. Claims of corruption have surrounded exports to repressive regimes. The defence industry has been propped up by huge amounts of taxpayers’ money, with BAE as the main beneficiary. In return, it has supplied equipment that was frequently overpriced, delivered late and designed to confront an enemy that no longer existed.

In 1992, the three main defence trade unions produced a comprehensive, fully researched set of proposals on defence diversification. These were intended to indicate new opportunities for skilled and professional people who were working in a declining industry to transfer their talents to areas of civil manufacturing with better long-term prospects .

In opposition the Labour party supported the concept, as did some employers, but when the Blair government was elected, BAE’s traditional armlock on defence industrial policy became even tighter. Faced with ministerial lack of interest, union leaders did not pursue diversification but lobbied for greater expenditure on the big military projects. Their members are now paying the price for this bad choice. Unfortunately the employment situation is unlikely to improve, as BAE increasingly focuses its activities on its largest market in the US.
Tim Webb
Former assistant general secretary, Manufacturing, Science and Finance

• ”It is hard to see how people can be paid to build jets that no one wants” as your editorial (28 September) puts it. Agreed. But can’t the BAE workforce be redirected into tackling the coming crises of energy and environment?

In the past arms manufacturers could change fast. On 12 April 1939 an order was placed with Vickers Armstrong at Castle Bromwich for 1,000 Spitfires. Although they were aeroplane manufacturers, a problem was caused by the Spitfire’s advanced design, which necessitated radical new production techniques. Nevertheless, by 21 July 1941 all had been delivered. Over the next five years comparable orders were delivered in around 18 months and by the end of the war over 11,000 had been built.

The driving force was the need to defend the country against a powerful threat. Today there are the powerful threats of peak oil and climate change. Why can’t BAE, instead of sacking 3,000 workers, redirect their manufacturing skills into smart meters, solar panels, wind turbines, wave generators, house-insulating materials, rickshaws, bicycles, and other products needed to make the country self-reliant in energy. Judging by his conference speech, if Ed Miliband were prime minister this would happen.
Michael Bassey
Newark, Nottinghamshire

• I wonder if Britain’s top military brass realise that the Argentine government, led by Cristina Kirchner, is a mildly left-leaning, non-militaristic Peronist leadership, broadly reflecting the wishes and ideals of the Argentine people (‘UK may lose Falklands,’ thinktank warns, 28 September). This in stark contrast to the fascist dictatorship that took over the country by force in 1976 and invaded the Falklands. For these and other reasons, the Kirchner administration has been gently reducing the military over the past eight years, so Argentina now has neither motivation nor capacity for any kind of military intervention. For these reasons also, Argentina is not going to form an alliance with China to invade the Falklands. The “warning” that Britain could lose the islands by reducing the military is ignorant, jingoistic, self-serving crap.
Jim Cormick
Buenos Aires, Argentina

• The report by the Royal United Services Institute (Britain’s military ‘will never again be a superpower’, 27 September) raises the question yet again: just why is Britain going to replace Trident? This is not a defensive weapon; it serves no useful purpose as an offensive weapon, and why should it be a deterrent for a (possibly stateless) group of fanatics? Britain would be better off using the money elsewhere in the armed forces.
Chris Osman
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