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EDITIONS
Friday, 5 July, 2002, 09:12 GMT 10:12 UK
Where arms dealers and school pupils mingle
UN peacekeepers
Organisers argue that defence shouldn't be a dirty word

The windswept expanse of Salisbury Plain is the venue on Friday for an unlikely meeting of arms dealers and schoolchildren.

"Army 2002" is a strange hybrid: part arms fair (though this is not an accredited defence exhibition such as Farnborough), part recruitment drive, part public event.

For five days, the Royal School of Artillery is hosting the event at Larkhill, one of several key defence sites clustered around Salisbury Plain.


We're looking to keep the army in the public eye

Colonel David Lyon
After two days in which defence manufacturers exhibited their wares to a largely professional audience, the site will be overrun Friday by as many as 15,000 students from schools all over the country.

The students are being brought in as guests of the Army Recruitment and Training Agency and officials make no secret of their desire to attract school-leavers at a time when recruitment remains a problem.

Paintball

"We're looking to keep the army in the public eye," says project director Colonel David Lyon.

"The best way to recruit is to show young people someone they might like to serve with."

The young visitors will encounter paintball and army simulators, amid recruitment stands for various parts of the British army.

Trainee soldiers
The Army has a shortage of new recruits

In the afternoon, they will watch as tanks, heavy guns and jet aircraft play out a war game on the nearby training grounds.

Organisers say it's the largest "all arms" firepower demonstration ever staged for the British public.

But visiting Larkhill at the same time will be 70 defence attaches, eager to examine the wares on offer from 65 mostly British defence contractors.

Hi-tech defence

With everything from the latest ordnance to cutting-edge computer technologies on display, manufacturers will be hoping to win important contracts.

Defence exports currently account for around 40% of the UK's defence industrial output.

The two events will be kept apart - no teenagers will be allowed in the defence pavilion while deals are being signed - but two very different worlds will - almost - be rubbing shoulders.

And if visitors come away with a less jaundiced view of the "merchants of death", then organisers say that's all well and good.

"The aim of Army 2002 is to show the army in a defence setting," says Colonel Lyon, pointing out that if the public wants the armed forces to continue mounting peacekeeping operations around the world, and not suffer too many casualties in the process, then new technology is vital.

See also:

22 Jun 02 | Entertainment
23 Jan 01 | Scotland
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