DSEI 2015: the global defence market on display

F1_BAE (2)Defence and Security Equipment International is a major global event in the military and national security equipment sales calendar, and the recent 2015 show once again attracted thousands of visitors from both trade and the military to London’s ExCeL exhibition centre. MOD DCB features writer Paul Elliott was there to see what the global defence market has to offer.

It’s hard to put into words the sheer scale of Defence and Security Equipment International, the biennial trade fair held at London’s ExCeL exhibition and conference centre. Organised in association with the Ministry of Defence and UK Trade & Investment’s Defence & Security Organisation (UKTI DSO), DSEI is the world’s largest fully integrated international defence exhibition featuring land, sea and air products and technologies. It’s simply colossal.

DSEI 2015, held from 15 to 18 September, was a who’s who of the global defence industry. All the main players were there as well as many innovative SMEs, and some new businesses you’ve probably yet to hear of. All manner of equipment and technology was on display and a variety of expertise and information-sharing opportunities were on offer at the conference’s many seminars.

True to form the biggest names in the defence marketplace made their presence known with enormous attention-grabbing stands. It was easy to feel dwarfed by the BAE Systems stand in particular, with its dramatic moving parts and numerous levels, or by the MBDA stand which resembled a block of high-end flats. Raytheon also took its share of floor space as did Saab, Lockheed Martin and Airbus Defence. The competition for stand marketing among the big players was as fierce as ever; heavy investment had clearly been made in an attempt to impress the industry at DSEI.

Small businesses are the core of the defence supply chain and they were also strongly represented on the floor at ExCeL. Attendees taking the time to stop by the more modest SME stands were privileged to discover a showcase of spectacular technology solutions, confirming that innovation is thriving within the UK value chain in particular.

It’s important to emphasise that DSEI isn’t all about armaments – for example, fantastic dual-purpose technology was to be found everywhere at the event. Virtual Reality, which is probably more commonly associated with the gaming world, was prevalent throughout the exhibition. One of the more impressive virtual solutions on display was offered by BMT Group. At the BMT stand delegates could wear a cutting-edge Oculus Rift headset and immerse themselves in the company’s F35 Lightning II flying simulation environment. As the fighter ‘took off’ you had the sensation of your body rising in the chair. Likewise in their Chinook VR simulator, you felt you could reach out and physically touch the frame of a real helicopter, so convincing was the immersive experience. It is very easy to grasp the training opportunities presented by such technologies and why the MOD and defence businesses have been showing a healthy interest in developing VR solutions.

One interesting sight on the DSEI exhibition floor was an exhibitor wearing a body thermal suit in an ice bath. White Glacier’s immersion suit attracted much attention; the image of grown men floating around in bright orange suits with their ties protruding from their necklines will assuredly be a long-lasting one. It was, however, another example of the diversity of the defence supply chain and the variety of products pioneered by the industry. Aside from the novelty of the White Glacier stand, their Arctic 25 protective suit is setting new standards in maritime safety and hypothermia protection. It shows that style can also have substance at events where every exhibitor is competing for attention.

The Defence Electronics and Components Agency (DECA) was also clearly visible on the exhibition floor, although it’s a name that some in defence may not be overly familiar with. DECA is an executive agency sponsored by the MOD and was formed in April 2015 from the air division of the Defence Support Group, which was retained when the rest of the group was sold to Babcock International. DECA was strategically retained to provide MOD with assured on-shore access to an avionics capability as well as through-life specialist avionics maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) and obsolescence management capability for the future support of UK defence. MOD ownership maintains DECA’s unique position with IPR/ITAR neutrality and Government to Government market access and maximises opportunities for achieving ‘best value for defence’ through focusing on delivery, cost reduction, quality and efficiency on in-service and future platforms. Their appearance at DSEI gave businesses the perfect opportunity to engage with a resource that they may not previously have been aware of. DECA is certainly keen to lay out routes where they can work with businesses in defence.

DSEI is always keen to showcase the very best the UK defence supply chain has to offer. Built by a variety of defence businesses, the Bloodhound land speed record attempt vehicle is in many ways emblematic of UK industry’s capability, with the vehicle again a star attraction at DSEI 2015. Another iconic platform was docked outside ExCeL in the Royal Victoria Dock. HMS Iron Duke was built in 1993 but is still operating and contributing to the UK’s naval capabilities. The warship has been involved in illegal drugs interception, sea patrol and humanitarian efforts. Tours of HMS Iron Duke could be booked at the event for those keen to see what an active Royal Navy ship looks like on the inside. Lieutenant Commander Paul Laidler was our guide as the inner workings of the vessel were displayed to an appreciative group of delegates. On the bridge and in the command centre, the latest defence tech is visible everywhere. Seeing equipment on a stand is one thing; seeing it in its intended setting offers a whole new understanding of how equipment is designed and operated.

Elsewhere, the latest announcement by the Defence Growth Partnership (DGP) was well attended, with representatives from throughout the defence industry listening with intent curiosity. Along with the launch of the new DGP prospectus and policy statement Customer Ready, the inaugural DGP Innovation Challenge winners were also announced.

With DSEI having drawn to a close for another two years, the defence supply chain will be looking keenly towards the next big event in the defence procurement calendar. 16 March 2016 sees the fourth edition of Defence Procurement, Research, Technology & Exportability (DPRTE) take place at Cardiff’s Motorpoint Arena, with senior defence buyers and procurement professionals as well as high-profile partners from both industry and government coming together to facilitate networking and knowledge sharing on the day.

The defence and security industry is one of tremendous breadth and depth, as the stands and displays at DSEI 2015 amply demonstrated. While it was easy to be swept up on the day in the whirl of business, marketing and spectacle found throughout the event, nonetheless every attendee is sure to have left deeply impressed by the range of innovation, ideas and solutions on display and confident that the industry will only go from strength to strength.

For more information, visit: www.dsei.co.uk