QinetiQ – the War Profiteer Welsh Politicians Love to Love

In Spring 2007, Sir John Chisholm, Chairman of QinetiQ, came to Cardiff University’s School of Engineering to give an invited lecture, in which he laid out his vision of “How to Build World Leaders in South Wales.” Chisholm had good grounds for feeling entitled to give such a talk. For since being created through privatisation in 2001, QinetiQ, now Britain’s third-largest arms company, has quietly become one of the Welsh Assembly Government’s most favoured business partners.

QinetiQ helps Wales manage and market its new UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle) centre at Parc Aberporth – a facility the government has said is a “key part” of its plans “for the regeneration of Cardigan and West Wales.”  Welsh Assembly Members and Ministers, in welcoming QinetiQ to Parc Aberporth, have spoken glowingly of its “vast expertise” and “international reputation.”

Since 2003, QinetiQ has entered into a series of research partnerships and “sister agreements” with Wales’s premier university, Cardiff University.  One of these (the Data and Information Fusion Defence Technology Centre) was recently celebrated by the First Minister of Wales, Rhodri Morgan, as representing “the future for the Welsh economy.”

In January 2007, the QinetiQ-led Metrix Consortium won what might be the largest investment in Welsh history, a £16 billion contract to build a private military training academy at St Athan, in the Vale of Glamorgan.  Rhodri Morgan described this success as a “red-letter day” for all of Wales, and vowed the St Athan Academy would “turn Oxford and Cambridge green with envy when it opens for business next decade.”

This cozy embrace of QinetiQ by Welsh political and educational leaders over the past few years is puzzling, to say the least, given the country’s supposed commitment to principles of social justice and fairness, good governance, sustainable development and responsible international citizenship.

QinetiQ is a company that has been mired in ethical controversy since its very beginning, for claims of taxpayer rip-offs, profit-gouging, sweetheart contracts and conflicts of interest, and for the past two years, it has been under investigation by the National Audit Office (NAO).  While the final NAO report has yet to be released, an early draft slammed the company for the “excessive profits” earned by its senior management and top investors: in just four years, the US investment company Carlyle earned over £300 million on an initial £42 million stake in QinetiQ, while Chairman Sir John Chisholm turned his £129,000 QinetiQ investment into a £22 million personal fortune.  “Greed of the Highest Order and the Worst Privatisation Since Rail,” Guardian columnist George Monbiot complains.  Welsh politicians, however, act as if they could not care less.

QinetiQ has also become one of Britain’s most blatant war profiteers. Sir John Chisholm likes to claim that “harnessing innovation” is the path to growth and wealth;  but in QinetiQ’s case, harnessing war is more to the point. When the United States invaded Iraq in 2003, hundreds of thousands of Britons and Welsh took to the streets to protest the violation of international law, the unjust nature of this war of choice, and the threat to world peace and stability. QinetiQ, however, saw in this latest rise of US military aggression a golden business opportunity and a killing to be made.

QinetiQ brought in the Carlyle Group, a US private equity firm with close ties to the family of George W. Bush, appointed former CIA head George Tenet to its board of directors (the man whose false claims that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction directly enabled the US attack on Iraq), formed a North American corporate division, and went on a buying spree, quickly acquiring half a dozen mid-sized US defence and security firms.  As a result, QinetiQ’s US defence-related business rose to 36% of its total sales, and QinetiQ management aims to push this share even higher.  This was all a far cry from QinetiQ’s original business strategy in 2001, when the British public was told that the newly-formed defence technology company would focus primarily on expanding into the civilian, non-military sector.

What does QinetiQ bring to Wales? Parc Aberporth is turning the West of the country into a hub for arms companies from around the world – BAE Systems, Northrop Grumman, Boeing, EADS, Thales, Honeywell, Finmeccanica and Israel’s Elbit Systems, among others, have all come to Wales’s UAV facility to develop and/or demonstrate their Unmanned Aerial Vehicle technologies. UAVs can have civilian applications; but it is the military side of the business that is booming, with the UAV market being dominated and driven globally by the US War on Terror. UAVs have been one of the few clear “winners” of the war on Iraq. “It is difficult to overstate how enamoured the US military has become of unmanned aircraft,” writes Nathan Hodge in the Financial Times.

At the 2007 Parc Aberborth UAV Exhibition, a Russian company is reported to have “stolen the show” with its unveiling of a new pack of “swarming” UAVs.  Swarming is attracting great interest from military planners in the US and elsewhere. “Imagine unmanned aerial vehicles blotting out the sky, obliterating anything that moves, and injecting terror into every observer’s heart,” writes a United States Air Force research director, in an evident state of rapture: “Impossible? Maybe not.”

At Cardiff University, researchers now work with Qinetiq to develop data fusion technologies in cockpit displays that better enable fighter pilots to pick out bombing targets. The battlefield is a “highly dynamic environment” with a “proliferation of information sources,” the researchers explain, meaning that fighter pilots are often “‘swamped with data and starved of information.’”  One set of information we can be assured Cardiff researchers are not trying to provide fighter pilots with in their cockpits, however, are the real world sights and sounds of what the bombs they drop actually do to flesh and blood human beings.

Wales’s highest institute of research and learning has apparently turned its back completely on the legacy of Welsh National Party founder Saunders Lewis, who back in 1936 warned of the terror and inhumanity of modern military air power. “The main target of the bombing aeroplanes,” Lewis wrote, “will be the destruction of cities, to burn them and to poison them, to turn the civilisation of centuries to ashes; to rain down, from the safety of the air, the most cruel death on women and children and unarmed men…. These fleets of aeroplanes will be so numerous and powerful that the risk to bombers themselves will be but small…. They will be trained in cold blood; in a short time the art will become a habit.”

Most recently, QinetiQ has brought Wales the planned St Athan Defence Training Academy. The St Athan Academy expands the presence in Wales of Raytheon (maker of cluster bombs, bunker buster bombs, nuclear weapons, depleted uranium weapons and other weapons of mass destruction), who is a member of the QinetiQ-led Metrix Consortium that will be building and running the Academy. It also thrusts Wales to the forefront of the global arms trade, since the business model at the heart of the St Athan Academy is to maximise profits by providing training not just to the British Armed Forces, but to militaries from all over the world – a Welsh version of the infamous US School of the Americas in Fort Benning, Georgia.

Summer 2007 witnessed a landmark event in the history of war. For the first time anywhere, armed robots were deployed on the streets of Iraq. Three one-metre-high SWORDS robots, each carrying M249 machine guns (capable of firing 750 rounds per minute) were sent into action by the US Army’s 3rd Infantry Division. SWORDS robots are designed for “high risk combat missions” and can be sent “into a crowded neighborhood infested with snipers to seek targets and take them out before a foot patrol follows.”  While ethicists fretted about the moral problems associated with the rise of robot armies on the battlefield, the US military enthusiastically placed immediate orders for 80 more SWORDS machines, promising to buoy their manufacturer’s profits handsomely.  Who makes these robot soldiers? A US subsidiary of QinetiQ, the Welsh Assemby Government’s new best friend.

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