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Are BAE Systems’ sales implicated in the use of explosive weapons in populated areas?

What is this report? BAE Systems, benefiting from global conflicts and threats of war, has seen recent unprecedented profit growth, highlighting the lucrative nature of the arms trade amidst global instability. This 2024 report – “How BAE Systems helped arm half the world” – from Action on Armed Violence investigates BAE Systems’ secretive client list spanning the previous decade, and scrutinises the ethical implications of arming countries with dubious human rights records and unstable political regimes.

The use of explosive weapons in populated areas presents a profound concern due to the high risk of collateral damage and civilian casualties. These destructive weapons do not discriminate between combatants and non-combatants when detonated in urban settings, where civilians are densely concentrated. The resultant harm extends beyond immediate physical injuries, as the psychological trauma, destruction of critical infrastructure, and long-term socioeconomic disruption pose devastating consequences for the affected communities. The indiscriminate nature of such weaponry in cities and towns violates principles of distinction and proportionality, cornerstones of international humanitarian law, thereby raising urgent ethical and legal challenges that compel international scrutiny and response. 

Since 2010, when Action on Armed Violence (AOAV) first started its global explosive violence monitor, the London-based charity has consistently charted the use of explosive weapons, as reported in English language media sources, globally. In 2022, AOAV found that when such weapons were deployed in populated areas, over 90% of those reported killed or injured were civilians – a pattern that seems consistent across conflict and location.

AOAV has identified 29 states where we have found definite links to BAE Systems where the governments of those countries have been found to have reported to have used explosive weapons – since 2013 – in areas that were recorded as populated. The countries were: Afghanistan, Algeria, Australia, Burundi, Cameroon, Canada, Colombia, France, India, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Kenya, Lebanon, Malaysia, Mali, Morocco, Nigeria, Philippines, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, South Korea, Tunisia, Turkey, Uganda, Ukraine, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom and the United States.

29 of the 81 definite countries that BAE Systems have helped arm in the last decade have used explosive weapons that have reportedly harmed civilians since 2013. From such state use, AOAV recorded 6,292 incidents of explosive weapons, based on reputable English language reporting. Such incidents led to 82,269 people killed or injured, of which 44,103 were civilians – 24,019 killed and 20,084 reported injured. 

Of these 6,292 incidents, 3,601 happened in populated areas – some 57%.  These attacks on towns and cities lead to 40,791 civilian casualties (22,226 killed), out of a total of 46,557. This means just under 88% of all people harmed from explosive weapons in populated areas as used by BAE-armed militaries (or coalitions of which they were part) were civilians.

The incidents did not necessarily take place within the countries – but were perpetrated by these nations. Whilst no claim is made that BAE systems weapons were used in all these incidents or deaths, these are likely underestimations of harm. These are just incidents that were reported to a sufficient standard to meet AOAV’s stringent methodology – the real number may be far higher.

Of note, our data shows incidents where state actors were the perpetrators of harm but may also include some incidents where both state and non-state actors were simultaneously reported as the perpetrator. The data also includes coalitions such as the US-led coalition or incidents where two states were the perpetrator, for example the USA and Afghanistan.

The five countries with the highest recorded civilian harm 2013-2023 to civilians from explosive weapons and were confirmed armed by BAE Systems were Israel (16,281), the Saudi-led coalition (11,384), the US-led coalition (6,534), Ukraine (2,282) and Turkey (2,217).

As part of its analysis of BAE Systems sales over the past decade, AOAV has identified four conflict zones not only where explosive weapons have been used in populated areas, but where there also exists either definite or reported evidence of BAE Systems exports to the belligerent state and as such UK-linked explosive weapons potentially being involved. These are Afghanistan, Iraq, Gaza and Yemen. To these we will focus on next.


The use of explosive weapons in populated areas from both Hamas rocket attacks and IDF airstrikes has dominated recent news headlines. While the exact role of BAE Systems’ equipment in the deployment of explosive munitions is also unclear, AOAV findings raise concern surrounding the deployment of indiscriminate explosives from one of BAE’s biggest end customers – Israel.

The F-35 Lightning II is a fighter aircraft developed as a collaboration between Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman and BAE Systems, with the latter holding a workshare of 15% of each aircraft. Widely exported across the globe, the aircraft features in Israel’s military portfolio since 2018, with the Middle Eastern state not only becoming the first nation outside of the US to receive this 5th Generation fighter, but as per its own air force chief, the first to use it in combat over Syria in 2018.

Israeli airstrikes since 2005 have received criticism for their failure to adequately distinguish between civilians and combatants. In particular, since Hamas’ attacks on October 7th, the Health Ministry in Gaza has reported as part of Israel’s retaliation (as of end of February 2024) some 30,000 deaths, with about two-thirds of those killed being women and children.

So far, Operation Swords of Iron has resulted in an average of 10.1 civilian fatalities per air strikes – significantly surpassing previous Gaza operations, as well as the global average of 7.4 – as Israel pursues the stated goal of eliminating Hamas. Concerns have been raised regarding the role the BAE joint-venture produced F-35 has played in these air attacks. While we cannot know for certain what particular aircraft are used in such attacks, BAE themselves note the aircraft’s designation as a multi-role fighter, capable of both ground strike attacks and air defence/superiority combat. 

Furthermore, the potential use of this weapon in air attacks over Gaza is reportedly supported by precedent. The Independent, reporting in 2021, claimed that F-35s were used in airstrikes resulting in the deaths of 232 civilians, including 65 children.

In light of the aircraft’s past use by Israel and stated intention to make up a larger scope of the Israeli Air Forces’ offensive capabilities, there is undoubtedly a significant concern that these aircraft, linked to BAE Systems through its joint venture – are delivering explosive munitions in populated areas across the Gaza Strip, both currently and in previous conflicts.

Yemen: Saudi-led coalition

The ongoing civil war in Yemen has also seen significant reports of explosive weapon use over heavily populated civilian areas across the country, mainly by the Saudi-led Coalition, one supported by the US and the UK.

In 2017, Human Rights Watch produced a report on the nature of these airstrikes, highlighting the killing of at least 4,125 civilians since the advent of the campaign. The strong relationship between BAE Systems and its customers in the Middle East, particularly Saudi Arabia is by no means a secret, with the nation being the largest destination of BAE sales aside from the US and UK. However, the connection of BAE equipment to explosive munitions is less clear.

Exports of BAE Systems to Saudi Arabia mostly consist of ground vehicles and air defence systems. But, much like the case with Israel, concerns regard the export of BAE-produced aircraft, which hold the capability to deliver highly explosive payloads. Between 2009 and 2015, a total of 72 Eurofighter Typhoons were ordered by and delivered to the Saudi Air Force. The Typhoon, produced as a collaboration between BAE Systems, Airbus, Rolls Royce and Leonardo, is a ‘multi-role fighter’ carrying significant capabilities in both air-air combat and ground strikes. Numerous human rights organisations have criticised BAE Systems for their supply of the Typhoon to the Royal Saudi Air Force due to its potential use in the intentional ‘targeting of civilians, attacks on schools, hospitals and cultural heritage.’

Again, while it is not specifically known that these aircraft are used in the deployment of explosive munitions (some have claimed such planes have been used over Yemeni skies by the Saudis, the continuous Saudi use of the aircraft should be viewed with the recent UK Court of Appeal ruling that the UK government’s claim there was ‘no risk’ to the Saudi use of the Typhoon in ‘serious violations of international humanitarian law’ was irrational and unlawful.

In addition, the RAF Typhoon FGR4s have been reported over the skies of Yemen in Britain’s recent bombing campaign of the country. Notably, Rishi Sunak’s order to go ahead with the attacks on Houthis in Yemen is the 9th time a British Prime Minister has ordered UK air power over Yemen – this time with BAE Systems weaponry.  These attacks were not, the UK Ministry of Defence asserts, over populated areas. They stress no civilians were killed in these attacks.

Afghanistan: US-led coalition forces

The long-term conflict in Afghanistan has seen explosive weapons utilised heavily, with one AOAV report noting that, since 2011, Afghanistan has been the third worst-affected state by explosive violence globally. While the vast majority of explosive-related casualties since 2011 were caused by IEDs deployed by non-state actors, between 2011 and the US/Coalition Withdrawal in 2021, 8% of civilian deaths were found to be provoked by airstrikes.

According to the manufacturers themselves, a major BAE weapon system deployed in Afghanistan was the GR-20 Advanced Precision Kill Weapon System (APKWS). Designed to turn unguided Hydra rockets into precision-guided munitions to reduce collateral damage, these weapons have a claimed 94% success rate of hitting a target to less than one meter

Data from air strikes by the US, US-led coalition and NATO forces in Afghanistan saw a reported 354 incidents since 2013 causing civilian harm, with 968 detailed civilian casualties. Of these, 650 were reported killed.


APKWS has also seen extensive use by coalition forces in Iraq, with over 2,000 delivered to Iraqi Air Force and Coalition nations alike between 2016 and 2018

Since 2013, the US and the US-led coalition have been implicated in 345 air-strike incidents in Iraq that have led to recorded 1,228 civilian casualties. Of these, 1,070 were reported killed, according to reputable English language media.

Section conclusion

The deployment of explosive weapons in populated areas represents a critical humanitarian issue, as evidenced by AOAV’s documentation. Our findings should be repeated: over 90% of casualties reported from such incidents are civilians, underscoring the indiscriminate nature of these weapons in urban settings. 

The use of explosive weapons by militaries, especially – for the purpose of this report – militaries who are also armed by weapons linked to BAE Systems, has been documented extensively by AOAV, revealing a concerning trend of civilian harm. This situation challenges the principles of distinction and proportionality under international humanitarian law and calls for urgent international scrutiny and response. 

If BAE Systems weaponry is potentially to be used by militaries who use such weapons in populated areas, is this a moral matter that should be vigorously debated at the point of sale? AOAV believes so.

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