The Arms Trade

Munitions Workers, Chilwell Notts, 1917


Information and news items about the arms trade

Armaments manufacture

  • is one of the largest and most lucrative businesses in the world
  • arms manufacture is usually highly profitable because:
  • arms sales/purchases are funded - or guaranteed - by governments ie, the taxpayer
  • most advanced economies make and sell arms
  • governments believe arms exports help to subsidise their own arms development and procurement.
  • some of the worlds largest arms deals and arms makers have been accused of involvement in unethical actvities (BAe, Boeing, Rheinmetall, Bofors).
  • Arms are often sold by the first purchaser when superceded and can remain lethal for decades in successive hands.
  • Changes of political direction can mean weaponry sold under so-called ethical policies being used against civil populations (Chile) or against the vendor of the weapons (Argentina vs UK)

Here are listed examples (mostly courtesy Wikipedia) of weaponry from UK, US, German, Italian, French, Swedish and Spanish arms manufacturers, all of which have been exported so that the world’s store of sophisticated weaponry is growing day by day and enriching multi-national companies who then go on to develop ever more advanced and lucrative weapons, with the protection of their respective governments who also subsidise their research and guarantee their exports.


Select one of the stories from the list opposite for many, many examples. 

The Endless List

The Centurion Tank

The Hawker Hunter

The English Electric Canberra

The Kalashnikov

The De Havilland Vampire



The Centurion was the primary British tank design of the post-World War II period, one of the most widely used, equipping armies around the world, with some still in service. It is said to have been used in more wars than any other post war tank. Between’46 and ‘62, factories at Leeds, Woolwich, Leyland and Elswick (Newcastle) produced  4,423.

As recently as the 2006 Israel-Lebanon conflict the Israel Defence Forces employed Centurions as personnel carriers and engineering vehicles.

The Centurion served in the Indo-Pakistani War of 1965, where it fought (for India) against US supplied tanks of Pakistan.

Royal Australian Armoured Corps used them in Vietnam.

South Africa bought them for from the UK after 1957, later they were acquired from India and Jordan. In 1970 the UN imposed embargoes due to Apartheid and human rights violations. This forced SA to develop its own arms industry (with secret help from Israel, France and the United States) this included upgrading the Centurions throughout the Border War in Namibia and Angola. South Africa currently employs 200 Centurions: modernized in the 80s and again in the 2000s, known as the Olifant.

Israel used Centurions in the Six Day War, Yom Kippur War, and invasions of Lebanon. Centurions as armoured personnel carriers were used in Gaza, West Bank and on the Lebanese border.  When the Six-day War broke out in ‘67, the Israel Defence Forces had 293 Centurions. Israel captured 30 of Jordan's 44 Centurions. Many were bought by Israel from different countries including Canada. The Israeli version of the Centurion earned legendary status during the Battle of "The Valley of Tears" on Golan Heights in the Yom Kippur War. Fewer than 100 Centurions of the 7th Armoured Brigade defeated some 500 Syrian T-55s and T-62s.

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The Hawker Hunter is a British jet aircraft developed in the ‘50s and 1,972 were delivered nearly half to the RAF and the rest exported serving with 21 other air forces.

The Hawker Hunter was used in numerous conflicts.; 50 years after its original introduction it is still in active service, operating with the Lebanese Air Force.

As the RAF received newer aircraft many deemed to be surplus to RAF requirements were also quickly refurbished for continued service abroad.

During the Suez Crisis of 1956, Hunters based  in Cyprus flew escort for Canberra bombers on offensive missions into Egypt. For most of the conflict the Hunters engaged in local air defence due to their lack of range.

During the Brunei Revolt in 1962, the RAF deployed Hunters to provide support for British ground forces; Hunters launched strafing runs on ground targets to intimidate and pin down rebels.

In Aden in May 1964, Hunters were used extensively against insurgents attempting to overthrow the Federation of South Arabia. The UK withdrew from Aden in November 1967.

Indian Air Force

India acquired 140 Hunters to counter Pakistan’s purchase of US Sabre jet fighters.

By the outbreak of the Sino-Indian War in 1962, India had assembled one of the largest air forces in Asia.

The Hunter was to play a major role during the Indo-Pakistani War of 1965 and regularly engaged in dogfights with the Pakistani Sabres and Starfighters. The aerial war saw both sides conducting thousands of sorties in a single month. Both sides claimed victory in the air war. Despite the intense fighting, the conflict was effectively a stalemate.

IAF Hunters performed extensive operations during the Indo-Pakistani War of 1971.

Swedish Air Force

120 Hawker Hunters acquired.

Swiss Air Force

In January 1958, the government of Switzerland ordered 100 Hunters, some permanently placed in reserve as "sleeper squadrons", housed in remote mountain-side hangars. It was planned that in a large-scale conflict, these aircraft would fly from adjacent highways, using them as improvised runways.

Republic of Singapore

Singapore first ordered the aircraft in 1968 during a massive expansion of the city-state's armed forces; At the time, considerable international controversy was generated as Britain (and, as was later revealed, the U.S.) had refused to sell Hunters to neighbouring Malaysia, sparking fears of a regional arms race and accusations of favouritism. The Singapore Air Force eventually received 46 refurbished Hunters to equip two squadrons.

Lebanese Air Force

The Lebanese Air Force operated Hawker Hunters from 1958. A Lebanese Hunter shot down an Israeli jet in the early 1960s; its pilot captured by the Lebanese Armed Forces. One Hunter was shot down on the first day of the Six-Day War by the Israeli Air Force. They were used infrequently during the Lebanese Civil War, and eventually went into storage.

In August 2007, the Lebanese Armed Forces planned to put its Hunters back into service following the 2007 Lebanon conflict, to deal with Fatah al-Islam militants in the Nahr el-Bared camp north of Tripoli. On 12 November 2008, 50 years after its original introduction, the Lebanese Air Force returned four of its eight Hunters back into service. Today, the Lebanese AF is the only military air arm in the world still operating the Hunter.


During the 1950s, the Rhodesian Air Force purchased Hunters and later deployed them extensively against Patriotic Front insurgents in the late 1960s and throughout the 1970s, occasionally engaging in cross-border raids over Zambia and Mozambique.

The Zimbabwean Air Force Hunters were flown to support Laurent Kabila's loyalists during the Second Congo War, and were reported to be involved in the Mozambican Civil War. In Somalia, the Siad Barre regime's fleet of ageing Hunters, often piloted by former Rhodesian servicemen, carried out several bombing missions against rebel units in the late 1980s.

Belgium and the Netherlands

The Belgian and Dutch governments ordered a large number of Hunters. When redundant the surviving Hunters were sold to Hawker Aircraft and re-built for re-export to India and Iraq, with others to Chile, Kuwait and Lebanon.

Middle East

Iraq -Between 1964 and 1975, both Britain delivered Hunters, to Iraq. In 1967, Hunters of the Iraqi Air Force saw action after the Six-Day War between Israel and several neighbouring Arab nations. During the War of Attrition Iraqi Hunters usually operated from bases in Egypt and Syria. While flying a Hunter from Iraqi Airbase, a pilot on exchange from the Pakistan Air Force, shot down two Israeli jets.

Jordan - Some missions were flown by the Jordanian Air Force, but most of their Hunters were destroyed on the ground on the first day of the Six-Day War. Replacement Hunters for Jordanian service were acquired from both Britain and Saudi Arabia in the war's aftermath. These were used with considerable success in ground attacks against Syrian tanks during the Black September war.

South America

Chile undertook the acquisition of Hunters from Britain in the 1960s. Two years after delivery was completed in 1971, the Hunters were used by military officers in the 1973 Chilean coup d'état to overthrow the socialist president of Chile, Salvador Allende. Coup leaders had ordered the Hunters to relocate to Talcahuano on 10 September. They engaged in bombing missions against the presidential palace, Allende's house in Santiago, and several radio stations loyal to the government.

In 1982, after the Falklands War, a number of Hunters were air freighted to Chile as part of the arrangements for providing support for UK operations in the South Atlantic.

Peru - The purchase of Hunters by Chile may have been a factor in the decision by the Peruvian Air Force to acquire Hunters of their own. Britain was keen to sell to Peru as the decision to sell Hunters to Chile became a controversial political issue for the British government following the coup, and the sale would uphold Britain's concept of regional "balancing".

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The English Electric Canberra was a British light jet bomber manufactured in large numbers through the 1950s. The Canberra could fly at a higher altitude than any other bomber through the 1950s and set a world altitude record and could evade the early jet interceptors so was a popular export and served with many nations. A total of 901 Canberras were manufactured in the UK, of world production of 1,352.

Canberras served in the Suez Crisis, the Vietnam War, the Falklands War, the Indo-Pakistani Wars, and numerous African conflicts.

In several wars, both of the opposing forces flew Canberras in their air forces.

The Canberra was retired by the RAF in 2006, 57 years after its first flight. Two of the US Air Force variants, the Martin B-57, remain in service, performing meteorological work for NASA, as well as providing electronic communications.

It was exported to more than 15 countries, including Australia, Argentina, Chile, Ecuador, Ethiopia, France, India, New Zealand, Pakistan, Peru, Rhodesia, South Africa, Sweden, Venezuela and West Germany.

The Canberra could deploy many conventional weapons, the total bomb load of upto 10,000 pounds (4.5 t).

After 1972 the RAF operated the Canberra after 1972 for reconnaissance: they searched for hidden arms dumps in N Ireland, reconnaissance during the Bosnian War, used to locate mass graves and during the Kosovo War in 1999. They were also operated from Uganda during the First Congo War, where they were used to search for refugees. Canberras remained in RAF service until July 2006 for strategic reconnaissance and photographic mapping used in the 2003 invasion of Iraq and in Afghanistan.

During the Falklands War, a plan to supply two to the Chilean Air Force, and secretly operate them with RAF crews over the war zone, was abandoned for political reasons. The aircraft got as far as Belize before the operation was cancelled.

Australian Canberras flew in Malaysia against Communist guerrillas,. and were in the Vietnam War flying approximately 12,000 sorties and dropping 76,389 bombs. The Canberra continued to be used by Australia for a total of 29 years before its retirement in June 1982.

India : The Canberra was the backbone of the Indian Air Force for bombing and reconnaissance for many decades. In January 1957 India ordered 54 bombers, eight photo-reconnaissance aircraft, and six trainers. A further  12 were ordered later and 30 more may have also been purchased by 1962. First used in combat by the IAF in 1962, the Canberra was employed during the UN campaign against the breakaway Republic of Katanga in Africa. During the Indo-Pakistani Wars of the 1960s and 1970s, the Canberra was used by both sides.

South Africa : South Africa used Canberras in their border / bush wars with neighbouring countries.

Rhodesia : Canberras often armed with anti-personnel cluster bombs carried out attacks on Mozambique, Zambia, and Angola. They were inherited by Zimbabwe.

Ethiopian: Canberras were used against Eritrea and again against Somalia during the 1970s.

Venezuela : On 20 April 1960, the Venezuelan Air Force used its Canberras to bomb the airport at San Cristóbal, Táchira, which had been seized by rebels, led by General Jose Maria Castro León. The rebels surrendered shortly afterward.

Argentina : received 12 at the beginning of the 1970s. In the Falklands War Argentine Canberras made 54 sorties; 36 of them bombing missions, of which 22 were at night against ground troops. Argentina retired its last Canberras in April 2006.

Peru: Canberras flew combat sorties against Ecuadorian positions during the Cenepa War in 1995. Peru retired its Canberras in June 2008.

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A Kalashnikov is any one of a series of automatic rifles based on the original design and widely known as Kalashnikovs, AKs, or in Russian slang, as a "Kalash". They were originally manufactured in the Soviet Union, primarily by Izhmash, but they and their variants are now manufactured in many other countries. 

 Estimated numbers of AK-type weapons vary. The Small Arms Survey suggest that "between 70 and 100 million of these weapons have been produced since 1947.

The World Bank estimates that out of the 500 million total firearms available worldwide, 100 million are of the Kalashnikov family, and 75 million are AK-47s. Because AK-type weapons have been made in other countries, often illicitly, it is impossible to know how many really exist.

Russia/Soviet Union and the People's Republic of China, as well as Western countries (especially the United States) supplied arms and technical knowledge to numerous countries and rebel forces. While the NATO countries used rifles such as the relatively expensive M14, FN FAL, HK G3 and M16 assault rifle during this time, the low production and materials costs of the AK-47 meant that the Russia/USSR could produce and supply its allies at a very low cost. Because of its low cost, it was also duplicated or used as the basis for many other weapons such as the Israeli Galil, Chinese Type 56, and Swiss SIG SG 550. As a result, the Cold War saw the mass export of AK-47s by the Soviet Union and the PRC to their allies, such as the Nicaraguan Sandinistas, Viet Cong as well as Middle Eastern, Asian, and African revolutionaries.

The United States also purchased the Type 56 from the PRC to give to the mujahideen guerrillas during the Soviet war in Afghanistan.[92]

The proliferation of this weapon is reflected by more than just numbers. The AK-47 is included in the flag of Mozambique and its emblem, an acknowledgment that the country's leaders gained power in large part through the effective use of their AK-47s. It is also found in the coats of arms of East Timor, the revolution era coat of arms of Burkina Faso and the flag of Hezbollah.

Production outside the USSR/Russia

These rifles have been manufactured in many countries, with and without licenses, including:

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In popular culture

In the movie Lord of War, the character Yuri Orlov, an arms dealer played by Nicolas Cage, mentions the Kalashnikov: "Of all the weapons in the vast Soviet arsenal, nothing was more profitable than Avtomat Kalashnikova.... more commonly known as the AK-47, or Kalashnikov. It's the world's most popular assault rifle, a weapon all fighters love. An elegantly simple, 9 pound amalgamation of forged steel and plywood. It doesn't break, jam, or overheat. It'll shoot whether it's covered in mud or filled with sand. It's so easy, even a child can use it - and they do. The Soviets put the gun on a coin. Mozambique put it on their flag. Since the end of the Cold War, the Kalashnikov has become the Russian people's greatest export. After that comes vodka, caviar, and suicidal novelists. One thing is for sure, no one was lining up to buy their cars."

.Illicit trade

Throughout the world, the AK and its variants are among the most commonly smuggled small arms sold to governments, rebels, criminals, and civilians alike, with little international oversight.

In some countries, prices for AKs are very low; in Somalia, Rwanda, Mozambique, Congo and Tanzania prices are between $30 and $125 per weapon and prices have fallen in the last few decades due to mass counterfeiting. Moisés Naím observed that in a small town in Kenya in 1986, an AK-47 cost fifteen cows but that in 2005, the price was down to four cows indicating that supply was "immense". The weapon has appeared in a number of conflicts including clashes in the Balkans, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Somalia.[87]

The Taliban and the Northern Alliance fought each other with Soviet AKs; some of these were exported to Pakistan. The gun is now also made in Pakistan's semi-autonomous areas (see Khyber Pass Copy). "'The Distribution of Iranian Ammunition in Africa', by the private British arms-tracking group Conflict Armament Research (CAR), shows how Iran broke trade embargos and infiltrated African markets with massive amounts of illegal, unmarked 7.62 mm rounds for the Kalashnikov-style AK-47 rifles."

Estimated numbers of AK-type weapons vary. The Small Arms Survey suggest that "between 70 and 100 million of these weapons have been produced since 1947."

 The World Bank estimates that out of the 500 million total firearms available worldwide, 100 million are of the Kalashnikov family, and 75 million are AK-47s. Because AK-type weapons have been made in other countries, often illicitly, it is impossible to know how many really exist.


Cultural influence

"Basically, it's the anti-Western caché of it ... And you know, one man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter, so we all sort of think, oh boy, we've got a little bit of Che Guevara in us. And this accounts for the popularity of the (AK 47) weapon. Plus I think that in the United States it's considered counterculture, which is always something that citizens in this country kind of like ... It's kind of sticking a finger in the eye of the man, if you will."

— Larry Kahaner, author of AK-47: The Weapon That Changed the Face of War

In parts of the Western world, the AK-47 is associated with their enemies; both Cold War era and present-day. In the pro-communist states, the AK-47 became a symbol of third-world revolution. During the 1980s, the Soviet Union became the principal arms dealer to countries embargoed by Western nations, including Middle Eastern nations such as Syria, Libya and Iran, who welcomed Soviet Union backing against Israel. After the fall of the Soviet Union, AK-47s were sold both openly and on the black market to any group with cash, including drug cartels and dictatorial states, and more recently they have been seen in the hands of Islamic groups such as the Taliban and Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and Iraq, and FARC, Ejército de Liberación Nacional guerrillas in Colombia. Western movies often portray criminals, gang members and terrorists using AK-47s. For these reasons, in the U.S. and Western Europe the AK-47 is stereotypically regarded as the weapon of choice of insurgents, gangsters and terrorists. Conversely, throughout the developing world, the AK-47 can be positively attributed with revolutionaries against foreign occupation, imperialism, or colonialism.[91]

In Mexico, the AK-47 is known as "Cuerno de Chivo" (literally "Ram's Horn") because of its curved magazine design and is one of the weapons of choice of Mexican drug cartels. It is sometimes mentioned in Mexican folk music lyrics.[94]

Kalashnikov Museum

The Kalashnikov Museum (also called the AK-47 museum) opened on 4 November 2004, in Izhevsk, Udmurt Republic. This city is in the Ural Region of Russia. The museum chronicles the biography of General Kalashnikov, as well as documents the invention of the AK-47. The museum complex of small arms of M. T. Kalashnikov, a series of halls and multimedia exhibitions is devoted to the evolution of the AK-47 assault rifle and attracts 10,000 monthly visitors.[97]

Nadezhda Vechtomova, the museum director stated in an interview that the purpose of the museum is to honor the ingenuity of the inventor and the hard work of the employees and to "separate the weapon as a weapon of murder from the people who are producing it and to tell its history in our country."

Israeli Special Forces soldier with an AK47. Large quantities of these weapons were captured by Israel from Arab stocks and some Israeli units were wholly equipped with it.


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The de Havilland DH.100 Vampire was a British jet fighter which entered service with the RAF in 1945. 3,268 Vampires were manufactured, a quarter of them built under licence in other countries.

With many export sales it was used by some 31 air forces. It participated in conflicts such as the 1948 Arab–Israeli War, the Malayan emergency, Indo-Pakistan wars and the Rhodesian Bush War.

Canadian Air Force : Flew 86 in total.

Egypt : 49, acquired from Italy and Britain, as fighter-bombers Egypt lost three Vampires in combat with Israeli jets during the Suez Crisis.

Finland :15 Finnish Air Force De Havilland Vampire Mk.52

India : 1965 IAF Vampires saw action for the first time, and successful in slowing the Pakistani advance. However, the Vampires encountered two Pakistan Air Force (PAF) F-86 Sabres, armed with air to air missiles; in the ensuing dogfight, the outdated Vampires were outclassed. One was shot down by ground fire and another three were shot down by Sabres.[24] The Vampires were withdrawn from front line service after these losses.

Norway : 20 Vampires F.3s, 36 FB.52s and six T.55 trainers. The Vampire was in use in Norway from 1948 to 1957

Sweden : 380 In addition, a total of 57 two-seater trainers

Rhodesia The Rhodesian Air Force acquired 32 VampireS in the early 1950s.  These were regularly deployed to Aden between 1957 and 1961, supporting British counter-insurgency operations.] 21 more two-seaters and 13 single-seaters were supplied by South Africa later. Rhodesia operated Vampires until the end of the bush war in 1979. In 1977, six were pressed into service for Operation Dingo also known as the Chimoio Massacre when 5000 Africans were killed for the loss of two white Rhdoesians including one Vampire pilot. After 30 years service, they were the last Vampires used on operations anywhere in the world.[28]


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