Despite Ukraine, these aren’t boom times for American armsmakers

Where’s the war bounty?

CAMDEN, A SMALL town in the backwoods of southern Arkansas, is having an unusual brush with the outside world. It is a quiet place. At this time of year there are more Halloween dolls tied to its lampposts than there are people in the streets. It also has a reason to keep its head down. The nearby Highland Industrial Park, which has a few manicured lawns amid thousands of acres of thick forestry, is home to the factories of some of America’s biggest weapons manufacturers, such as Lockheed Martin and Raytheon Technologies. “It’s been kind of a hidden secret,” says Michael Preston, Arkansas’s secretary of commerce. Or as a local businessman whispers, “it’s a fear thing: ‘shhhh’.”

The war in Ukraine has made it hard for Camden to remain low-key. Behind high fences and the forest canopy the armsmakers are assembling many of the weapons made famous by Ukrainians who use them to stall the Russian invasion. Javelin missiles, HIMARS guided-missile launchers and GMLRS rockets, known as “gimmlers”, have become household names on TV and social media. Politico, a news website, recently profiled Camden as “the struggling Arkansas town that helped stop Russia in its tracks”. That has drawn more attention, including from your columnist. He was intrigued that some of these Russia-thumping munitions are stored in bunkers dating back to the second world war. More pertinent, he expected to witness America’s military-industrial complex on a full war footing. Instead he discovered just how plodding parts of the American defence juggernaut can be.

In theory, these should be heady times for makers of weapons. Russia’s assault on Ukraine, combined with strategic fears about China, have pushed up America’s proposed defence…