'The grand total of UK arms licences since the invasion in Yemen in March 2015 is more than $6.2 billion for aircraft, helicopters, drones, bombs and missiles, according to government figures.
Lewis and Templar’s report explains:
“Under a sequence of formal agreements between the UK and Saudi governments since 1973, the UK Ministry of Defence and its contractors supply not only military ‘hardware’, but also human ‘software.’ Around 7,000 individuals—private employees, British civil servants and seconded Royal Air Force personnel—are present in Saudi Arabia to advise, train, service and manage British-supplied combat aircraft and other military equipment.”
The UK government claims these personnel are not involved directly in targeting, loading weaponry or in the planning of operational sorties. But confidential agreements signed between the UK government and the RSAF, which are not to be released to the public till 2027, outline the number of personnel and functions they undertake.
The UK-Saudi Al Yamamah agreement, a record arms deal signed in 1986 which included the supply and support of Tornado fighter-bombers, is still ongoing. The agreement is secret, but the report’s authors were able to see a batch of Downing Street papers that were filed in the National Archive at Kew revealing some details.
Under the agreement the
“United Kingdom civilian and military personnel will remain available in Saudi Arabia for preparation, including arming and support, of the [Tornado fighter-bomber] aircraft during an armed conflict…”
Lewis and Templar interviewed technicians, managers and officials of all ranks over two years and their report notes the critical role of UK personnel in the Saudi war-machine:
“A mix of company employees and seconded RAF personnel have continued to be responsible for maintaining the weapons systems of all Saudi Tornado IDS fighter-bombers, a backbone of the Yemen air war… work as aircraft armourers and weapons supervisors for the UK-supplied Typhoon fighters deployed at the main operating bases for Saudi Yemen operations, and provided deeper-level maintenance for Yemen-deployed combat aircraft.”
UK personnel in Saudi Arabia have been placed at physical or legal risk, including from scud missiles and unexploded ordnance. Some of those who have tried to whistle-blow over possible war crimes have been harassed and have not been afforded protection under UK law.
The report unearthed evidence that some of the UK personnel are involved in the handling of cluster bombs.
Lewis and Templar also found that the UK government has used private companies to “work on behalf of the British state but with Saudi masters; without the legal protections accorded to UK civil servants or military personnel; and without any guidance or protocols for reporting risks of IHL (International Humanitarian Law) violations to the UK government, or to their employers… Whitehall’s limited oversight of their activities is a deliberately constructed choice.”'
Read more: Report Exposes UK Role in Saudi Arabia’s War on Yemen