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BAE's 'Green Filling Fields'

April 30, 2010
Jon Ungoed / London Sunday Times

UK arms manufacturer BAE Systems is bringing us ‘Green Killing’ with a new generation of what it laughingly calls ‘environmentally-friendly weapons’. Apparently, it wants to reduce the dangerous compounds emitted by its jets, fighting vehicles and weapons, like depleted uranium (DU) dust, which it warns “can harm the environment and pose a risk to people.”


Watch Out, Sarge!
It's Environmentally Friendly Fire

Jon Ungoed-Thomas / Sunday Times

(September 17, 2006) -- [UK arms manufacturer BAE Systems] wants to cut the dangerous compounds in its jets, fighting vehicles and artillery, which it warns "can harm the environment and pose a risk to people."

The initiative is being backed by the Ministry of Defence, which has proposed quieter warheads to reduce noise pollution and grenades that produce less smoke. There have even been experiments to see if explosives can be turned into manure.

Dr Debbie Allen, director of corporate social responsibility at BAE systems, said that although it might seem strange to have a green policy for munitions, it was important to consider the environmental impact of all products.

"Weapons are going to be used and when they are, we try to make them as safe for the user as possible, to limit the collateral damage and to impact as little as possible on the environment," she said.

BAE's policy reflects the eagerness among big companies to trumpet their environmental concerns. The concept of “green munitions” has, however, infuriated campaigners opposed to the arms trade.

"This is laughable," said Symon Hill of Campaign Against Arms Trade. "BAE is determined to try to make itself look ethical, but they make weapons to kill people and it's utterly ridiculous to suggest they are environmentally friendly."

During the Iraq war, Britain dropped more than 900 bombs while the United States has admitted dropping 1,500 cluster bombs, which detonate numerous explosions over a large area, and anti-landmine campaigners have sought to ban them. The exact death toll is unknown.

Both countries say they want to ensure their weapons are in future more sustainable and environmentally friendly. BAE stopped using depleted uranium in its weapons in 2003, but an expert panel now reviews all its products to ensure materials and manufacturing processes are as green as possible. Its arsenal and environmental practices now include:

Energy saving measures and recycling, including experimenting with turning waste explosives into compost.

BAE's policy is endorsed by the MoD, which stresses the importance of environmentally friendly munitions in its Sustainable Development and Environment Manual. It says "ecodesign" should be incorporated into all modern weapons.

It states: "A concept of green munitions is not a contradiction in terms. Any system, whatever its ultimate use, can be designed to minimise its impact [on the] environment."

Rockets fired in "sensitive marine environments" could have reduced emissions to protect the sea-life, the manual suggests. Also, weapons used for training purposes could be modified. Ideas include biodegradable plastics for missiles, “reduced smoke” grenades and quieter warheads.

The American military has also developed a sustainability strategy. One document on the US Army Sustainability website discusses the possible use of soybean oil in jet fuel, the use of solar panels in the conflict zone and hydrogen-powered miniature aerial vehicles.

BAE's 'Green Killing Fields'
Green Health Watch

LONDON (April 29, 2001) -- UK arms manufacturer BAE Systems is bringing us 'Green Killing' with a new generation of what it laughingly calls 'environmentally-friendly weapons'. Apparently, it wants to reduce the dangerous compounds emitted by its jets, fighting vehicles and weapons, like depleted uranium (DU) dust, which it warns "can harm the environment and pose a risk to people."

BAE's initiative was welcomed by the UK Ministry of Defence, which has itself proposed ‘environmental impact assessments' for all new weapons: quieter warheads to reduce noise pollution, grenades which produce less smoke, etc. There have even been experiments to see if explosives and landmines can be turned into manure.

BAE’s growing range of so-called 'Green Weapons' now includes:

• bullets with lower lead content because "lead used in ammunition can harm the environment and pose a risk to people."

• armoured vehicles hybrid diesel/electric engines to reduce carbon emissions.

• weaponry which releases fewer toxins like volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and other hazardous and often carcinogenic chemicals.

• more stable artillery, which does not blow up accidentally and has a longer shelf life, reducing waste.

[Note --
(i) As BAE reminds us, "no company, regardless of what they make, can now just make a product, bung it out there, and then forget about it," and "we all have a duty of care to ensure that from cradle to grave products are being used appropriately and do not do lasting harm."

(ii) Tungsten.
BAE has abandoned DU and returned to weapons-grade tungsten alloys to harden the tips of its weapons in 2003, allegedly due to environmental concerns. Environmental concerns aside, tungsten-tipped missiles are equally effective at piercing armour, but cost less.

There is no question that weapons tipped with a weapons-grade tungsten alloy are preferable to weapons tipped with DU. The tungsten alloy used is not radioactive and does not vaporise on impact, spreading long-lasting carcinogenic radioactive particles over a wide area.

However, Tungsten is the third heaviest element and can be combined with copper, nickel, iron, and cobalt to form heavy metals. The body requires trace levels of some heavy metals (e.g. cobalt, copper, manganese, molybdenum, vanadium, strontium and zinc) to maintain good health, but even low exposures to other heavy metals (e.g. mercury, lead and cadmium) can lead to cancer and neurological damage.

Although virtually no safety research has ever been done, the toxicity of tungsten and tungsten alloys for human health has been seen traditionally as low. This may soon change.

Researchers at the US Army Forces Radiobiology Research Institute in Bethesda, Maryland (US) embedded tungsten alloy pellets into rats to see what might happen to a human wounded by tungsten alloy shrapnel. They were surprised to find that every rat showed signs of cancer development after only one month and tumours within four to five months. The same may apply to humans. [1] So it is all a question of degree. Tungsten alloy shrapnel is as indiscriminate as DU dust, but does not spread as far.

(iii) Another study from the US Centers for Disease Control found childhood leukaemia clusters in the area around the once tungsten-mining towns of Fallon, Nevada and Sierra Vista, Arizona (US). [2]

[1] Kalinich,JF et al.
Environmental Health Perspectives 2005; 113(6): 729-734
[2] Sun,NN et al.
Toxicology and Industrial Health 2003;19(7-10):157-63


WINNER: BAe Sytems

SECTOR: Arms manufacture, arms dealing and death

BAe Systems is the largest European defence company. It has come under fire (no pun intended) over the years for numerous controversial arms deals. BAe seems happy to supply arms to any side in a conflict. This includes sending submachine guns to Turkey (a country with a less-than-glowing human rights record).

More dodgy deals also include the notorious Hawk jet sales to Indonesia in 1996 linked to the repression of East Timor (this arms deal was brokered by the then Conservative government and then upheld by the current Labour administration). Recently, the company has been at the centre of a corruption scandal in the UK over whether the company bribed Saudi officials during the Al Yamamah deals of the 1980s.

However, to clean up its image the company has immersed itself in Corporate Social Responsibility. CSR highlights include: designing environmental posters launched in primary schools across Scotland; sponsorship of Wilvale under-16s football team; funds for cash-strapped university students; and £100,000 to Age Concern's Winter Warmth Fund.

As for environmental credentials, over the next few years BAe are proposing that its next generation of munitions will be strictly green guns 'n' ammo (poisonous lead bullets, and other 'dangerous compounds' in vehicles are to be withdrawn on environmental health grounds). But it's probably true to say that getting caught in eco-friendly cross-fire doesn't feature on anyone's top ten list of ethical ways to die.

Although the company's CSR credentials may not discriminate against anyone on the grounds of age and gender, this does not stop BAe being an indiscriminate arms dealers.

Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.




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