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Arms dealers look for new markets

A soldier holds an assault weapon at a stall at the Defense and Security International show in London on Tuesday. (Associated Press)
A soldier holds an assault weapon at a stall at the Defense and Security International show in London on Tuesday. (Associated Press)

Trade show begins during challenging times

LONDON – Defense manufacturers from around the world hawked their wares in London on Tuesday, at a time when military budget cuts and the drawdown of operations in Afghanistan pose a challenge to the industry.

The Defense and Security International show – sometimes billed as the world’s largest arms fair – took place as anti-arms activists demonstrated against the gathering, which included delegates from Arab countries accused of using force to clamp down on dissidents.

Britain’s Defense Secretary Liam Fox acknowledged that times were tough both security-wise and economically.

“The pressure on the public purse means that now more than ever, value for money for the taxpayer must be demonstrable,” Fox told attendees in a keynote speech at the exhibition.

Britain has the world’s second-largest defense industry after the United States, generating more than $35 billion in sales in 2010, according to a survey published Monday by ADS, the trade organization advancing U.K. aerospace, defense, security and space industries.

Economic problems are weighing heavily on the U.K., where the government is cutting $130 billion in public spending over the next four years. But while the U.K. plans to slash military spending and troop numbers, it also is looking to the defense industry to help drive an economic recovery.

Increasingly, selling arms abroad is being pushed as a way out of the economic crisis – a point Fox underscored.

“For too long export potential has been ignored when initiating projects for the U.K.’s own use – that needs to change,” he sad.

Many manufacturers are looking beyond Afghanistan now that military operations there are winding down – some by simply rebranding their products or tweaking their sales pitch.

A representative for France’s Panhard boasted of the urban capabilities of the company’s newest PVP armored personnel carrier. On display, it bore the markings “POLICE” – to show that it is not just for military operations and can be of broader use.

Many exhibitors highlighted cyberwarfare and information security systems, a testament to the changing nature of war.