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A Magazine for Sheffield

The Boeing Bounce

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An RAF Typhoon. Photo by Chris Lofting.

This year Sheffield's economy could start focussing on green, health-giving technologies, on nature and the outdoors, tourism, history and culture, including the city's many varied communities. Instead the Council is crowing about the AMRC like a goose laying golden eggs. It's an Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre, what's not to like? Well, the main players are arms dealers.

Sheffield City Council and local newspapers seem to think corporate investment will lift us from recession on the wings of a Boeing 737. That's the bestselling commercial airliner, but the 'Boeing Bounce' actually refers to the rough ride provided by the deadly B52 bomber, which didn't exactly fly like a bird. Boeing is the world's second largest arms manufacturer.

Companies like BAE Systems are also in the AMRC. According to SIPRI, 95% of the company's sales are military. Its planes played a role in Saudi-led massacres in Yemen, which killed an estimated 50,000 children in 2017 and left millions of people starving. Then there's GKN, boasting the highest growth in arms sales by a British company in 2016, and Rolls Royce, which generated 23% of its turnover from 'defence' in 2017.

Should we be proud of this?

Britain's arms manufacturing is large in financial terms because weapons are costly, but it employs less than 1% of the workforce, even with related contracts. Supply chains are long. Makers of parts for unknown machines identified only by numbers could be making military equipment without realising it.

Steel and precision engineering made Sheffield famous and that includes armaments. There are probably hundreds of firms in the AMRC and across the city supplying parts large and small to the weapons industry. Like Sheffield Forgemasters, for example, with its UK defence contracts and chairman formerly of Rolls Royce.

Should we be proud of this? Or that AMRC partner the University of Sheffield has one of the highest amounts of military funding, according to a 2012 study of university financing by the Campaign Against Arms Trade? And Hallam Uni is in there too. Innovative tech comes out of research and that deserves respect, but the AMRC's collaborations with universities and industry helps companies to suck talented young people into a lifetime of helping to build weapons systems.

Europe is [...] in a long process of combining into a military superpower

BAE System's next fighter jet, the Tempest, could be used with either pilots or as a drone carrying 'laser directed energy weapons'. That doesn't sound good. BAE Chief Exec Charles Woodburn told the BBC that the evolution from the previous Typhoon jet is a new concept that 'will illustrate a direction of travel'. Is that towards keeping the peace? Only if world leadership doesn't include psychopaths intent on endless war.

The US has exhibited such symptoms for years, with UK help. According to one assessment by historian and journalist Mark Curtis, the British state has been complicit or responsible for around ten million deaths since World War II. Europe is also in a long process of combining into a military superpower, with UK involvement possible regardless of Brexit via the EU's Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO) policy. Whether this will help remains to be seen.

War is never inevitable. The killing could be stopped or greatly reduced, but I've got a feeling Sheffield's on the wrong side of history here. Will it become a famous green city of rejuvenation, co-operation and peace, an example to the world? Simply getting all the empty buildings converted into decent housing and places of employment would be a massive and permanent boost. But what do I know? Either way, I'm not proud of my country producing so many of the world's weapons.

Hosted by Alt-Sheff

Paul Chatterton: Unlocking Sustainable Cities

Wed 23 Jan | 6pm | Red Haus Books, S7 1FL | £6/4

Paul Chatterton is a radical activist and writer from Leeds with wide experience of urban alternatives, common ownership and ´bio cities´. This talk offers a toolkit for the post-carbon future that we all need. Beer and Korean vegan food (Red Haus specialities) will also be available.

CycleSheffield Christmas / Winter Social

Fri 25 Jan | University Arms, S3 7HG

Nothing happening after Christmas? Get on your bike to meet people from CycleSheffield, the city's cycle pressure group. Newcomers are welcome at this Burns Night evening of food, drink, fun and no doubt plenty of talk about the joys and problems of cycling in Sheffield.

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