Firms such as Lockheed Martin, Boeing and BAE systems make tens of billions of dollars from weapons sales.
Two British activists could face jail terms of up to 10 years after attempting to “disarm” BAE fighter jets heading to Saudi Arabia, where they would have been used to support the kingdom’s ongoing bombing campaign in Yemen.
Sam Walton, a Quaker activist, and Daniel Woodhouse, a Methodist minister, were arrested in January after breaking into a BAE Systems airbase in Warton, Lancashire, with hammers and crowbars as they tried to “prevent a war crime” in the Arabian Peninsula state.
The pair managed to get beyond fences, closed doors and CCTV camera at the site, which they claim was housing 13 fighter jets scheduled to be sent to Saudi Arabia.
“We brought a hammer and a crowbar and were intending on disarming the jets by hammering their noses, which houses the radars, as well as the side panels and the cockpits,” Walton told Al Jazeera.
“We got within five feet of them … but as we started to go at a door with our crowbars, we alerted security, and they found us.”
Walton said the duo were scheduled to appear at Burnley Magistrates Court on Tuesday on charges of criminal damage and could face up to 10 years in prison.
The duo entered the base 21 years after four women – known as the Ploughshare Four – caused more than 1.5 million pounds ($2m) in damage to a Hawk fighter jet destined for Indonesia.
The women argued the jet would likely be used to kill civilians in East Timor and were later found not guilty of criminal damage under the Genocide Act.
“This could have been one of the largest conspiracies to commit criminal charges cases in UK legal history,” Walton said.
“There was close to a $1bn worth of planes in that hanger, but we’ve been charged with 1,000 pounds (around $1,300) worth of damage – a mickey-mouse offence – because BAE wants this case to go away.”
BAE did not immediately respond to Al Jazeera’s request for comment on the case.
Since Saudi Arabia launched its military intervention in Yemen, UK weapons companies, including BAE systems and Raytheon, have earned revenues exceeding $8bn, generating profits estimated at almost $775m.
‘Conflict as a business opportunity’
The UK has approved sales of the Tornado aircraft, which is partially manufactured by BAE systems; BAE’s Tactica armoured vehicles, valued at $580,000; vehicles and tanks; and $1.48bn worth of grenades, missiles and bombs.
Andrew Smith, a spokesperson for the Campaign Against Arms Trade, told Al Jazeera that the “real crime” was the UK government’s decision to keep arming and supporting Saudi Arabia.
“While aid organisations have done everything they can to help the people of Yemen, BAE has seen the conflict as a business opportunity and a means to sell more fighter jets,” Smith said. “What Sam and Daniel did was to try and stop those jets, something they should have never had to do in the first place. The government should have done that.”
The country is also facing a deadly cholera outbreak, a direct consequence of the war, that has claimed about 2,000 lives and affected more than 500,000 people since late April.
“The UK can’t continue building its economy on the bodies of the innocent,” Walton said.