The St Athan Defence Training Academy: the future of
Stuart Tannock discusses the disturbing implications
of the Ministry of Defence's new multi-billion pound
Britain's largest education and technology investment
project in recent memory has been developing quietly
under the public's radar. It is time we paid attention.
In January 2007, the Ministry of Defence awarded an £11
billion contract to the private Metrix Consortium
(see Box) to build a massive new training centre for the
British armed forces at the village of
St Athan in the Vale of Glamorgan, South Wales.
St Athan, which is expected to become one of the world's
biggest military training establishments when it opens
in 2013, will provide specialist training in engineering,
communications and information systems technology
to all three services of the British military. For the
first time, it will centralise in one location military
training that is currently done in sites
across the country.
Supporters of St Athan emphasise that the Academy will
use state-of-the-art technology and training methods
such as neurolinguistic programming, e-learning technologies,
computer-based training, computer-aided instruction,
emulation, simulation and Web-based systems. St Athan, they
claim, "breathes life into the classroom of the future
model which for many years now has been anticipated by
futurologists and thought leaders in the education community."
St Athan represents a "model for training in this
country" that will enable Britain to realise Lord Leitch's
vision of gaining "world leadership in skills."
Why should any of this worry us? There is the fundamental
question of why we should support such a massive outlay of
taxpayer money on a military that is still involved in
fighting an illegal war in Iraq – and in a country,
Britain, that already boasts the world's second-largest
military budget.Beyond this, St Athan represents three
developments which should be attracting extended public
and political debate, but which instead have
received little attention, beyond a small, local campaign
against the Academy that sprung up in Wales after the
project was first announced.
First, St Athan is part of a political project of
privatising the British armed forces, and turns over
responsibility for military training to a private, for-profit
consortium. At a time when, across the Atlantic, US Congress
is holding investigations into abuses perpetrated by private
military companies such as Blackwater in Iraq, Britain is
rushing headlong down the same path of military privatisation
that the USA has gone down before. This privatisation,
moreover, makes the British government a direct
partner of one of the world's largest and most controversial
arms dealers,Raytheon, which is a core member of the St
Athan Metrix Consortium.
Second, St Athan represents a major leap forward in Britain's
participation in the global arms trade. The Metrix business
model for maximising profits at St Athan is to maximise the
amount of training it provides, through serving not just the
British military but militaries from around the world.
Between 2002 and 2005, the Ministry of Defence provided
military training to more than 12,000 personnel from 137
countries, many with poor human rights records. With
St Athan, this trade promises only to increase.
Third, St Athan represents another step up in the ongoing
militarisation of British education. The Open University –
whose Vice-Chancellor, Brenda Gourley, claims that
universities should be "beacons that reflect the very
best of which the human spirit is capable" – is a
direct partner in the Metrix Consortium. Schools around
the Vale of Glamorgan are making plans to train local
youth for jobs at the St Athan Academy, while colleges and
universities across South Wales, which have already
been extensively militarised over the past decade,
are exploring new Academy contract tie-ins.
Indeed, one reason why we shouldn't expect Cardiff
University, the premier institution of research and
learning in the region, to lead any critical investigation
into the St Athan project is that, in 2005, it signed
a long-term strategic research partnership with QinetiQ,
another core member of the Metrix Consortium.
Promoters of the St Athan Defence Training Academy
claim that it represents the future of education
in Britain. Without public investigation, debate and
critique of St Athan and other military research
and education projects across the country, there is
a strong possibility that this will come true.
If it does, it will not be for the better of Britain
or anywhere else in the world.