Concern over activities for school children at Farnborough arms fair


ForcesWatch press release

ForcesWatch is raising ‘serious concerns’ about aspects of the Farnborough International Air Show designed to engage children and young people in careers and ‘exciting’ activities.

The ‘air show’ – held every two years in Hampshire – is taking place this coming weekend. Associated events this week include a major arms fair, civil aerospace exhibition and hosting of military delegations from some of the world’s most repressive regimes (2).

Most of the world’s major arms companies also have a presence exhibiting a range of weaponry including drones and missile systems. There are over 60 exhibiting companies involved in the production of missile systems alone (3).

The UK Government has a clear strategy of promoting the arms trade at Farnborough through the UK Trade and Investment Defence and Security Organisation (UKTI DSO). This arm of the civil service organises private meetings and briefing events to help promote UK weaponry and hosts overseas military delegations, including, in 2014, from Algeria, Bahrain, Iraq, Libya, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia (4). Government ministers also attend.

Events on Futures Day (Friday 15 July) are aimed at students in schools, universities and youth associations aged between 11-21. The day affords weapons manufacturers unique PR opportunities, including showcasing arms to children (5).

Futures Day is sponsored by some of the biggest arms companies in the world including Thales, MBDA and Raytheon. MBDA will be offering a ‘Missile Build Time Trial’ to students to gain ‘insight into the functions behind each section that makes up a missile system.’ (6) Thales and Raytheon are offering flight and virtual reality simulators. The RAF will be offering career advice.

The public events include the military air show, a drone show, the ‘Boeing Centennial Experience’, military flight simulators and a family ‘adventure’ section with the opportunity to ‘take to the wheel of some mean military machinery’ and drive a tank (7).

The integration of military interests into activities and education for young people and wider civil society is part of a growing trend. The official reception of the Farnborough Arms Fair was held on Monday (11 July) in the Science Museum, who also have a sponsorship deal with the arms company Airbus (8). A number of other major galleries and museums are also sponsored by arms companies (9).

Arms companies are also becoming involved in education. BAE Systems are a major sponsor of Furness Academy in Cumbria and have significant influence in its governance as well as input into the curriculum and extra-curricula opportunities (10).

Many University Technical Colleges, providing employment orientated education for 14-18 year olds, are sponsored by arms companies or part of the UK armed forces (11). The armed forces are also increasing promoted in schools through career-orientated visits and the Department for Education’s ‘military ethos in schools’ programme (12).

Commenting, ForcesWatch coordinator, Emma Sangster, said: “We think many parents would be really uncomfortable about the idea of weapons manufactures having such easy access to their children.

“Futures Day is sponsored by some of the largest arms companies in the world, such as MBDA – which has sold missile systems to dozens of military regimes – and Raytheon, which makes Cruise Missiles and racked up vast profits from the Iraq war (13). These are companies arming Saudi Arabia which have recently been accused of atrocities in Yemen (14).

“We are seriously concerned that these facts are less than clear to parents and teachers. This seems to be yet another example of the ready access that military interests are now being given to children and young people within the UK education system.

“The organisers of this event and government should stop and consider whether Futures Day is really an appropriate setting for education activities.

“We would urge schools attending this event to take the opportunity to encourage their students to critically evaluate the arms industry and its effects on creating conflict and suffering around the world.”

Mark Davies, a parent from Southampton, said, “I am a parent of a 13 year old girl who has been invited to attend the Futures day. I found it quite shocking to see the level of military involvement. To find out that the main sponsors sell arms to Saudi Arabia’s brutal regime really cemented my fears that this Futures Day is in part a recruitment drive for the arms trade. I feel all parents and teachers should be aware of this and either withdraw their kids from the event or educate them to see the bigger picture.”



1. ForcesWatch scrutinises armed forces recruitment practices and proposes changes in policy aimed at better serving the interests of young people. 

2. The official website states that in 2014 there was a “staggering $204 billion in business deals”.



5. Referring to the Futures Day at Farnborough 2014, the official website states: “With the objective to inspire our younger generation to enter into a career in Aerospace, the initiative saw over 5,000 children from the region attend the show and participate in a variety of talks and educational activities. Futures Day is your business opportunity to engage with the future generation of aerospace professionals.”







12. For a summary of military involvement in UK schools, see ForcesWatch:



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