Step through the doors of the Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre (ADNEC) and you’re transported into a parallel universe where there’s no such thing as a global recession.
The latest biennial International Defence Exhibition (IDEX), held in the UAE capital in late February, is a temple to government consumerism and the guest list of companies displaying their wares reads like a who’s who of the defence industry. Virtually every major defence manufacturer has some kind of presence at the show (the only real exception is Israel, for obvious reasons).
If you’re of a mind and your pockets are deep enough, you can buy everything from medals and uniform hats made by M Azam & Sons or a sub-compact pistol from UAE-based Caracal, through to Chinese AR1A 300mm multiple rocket launchers from Norinco and automatic grenade launcher personal area weapons by Denel’s Neopup from South Africa. Then there are the new Andrasta attack submarines launched at the show by France’s DCNS, and American C-17 airlifters from Boeing.
The delegations and visitors are equally polyglot, with only a few of the 45,000 people booked in living up to the mirrored glasses-wearing, moustachioed arms dealer stereotype.
Sketching out the show in numbers alone doesn’t really do it justice, but just to put things in perspective, this is the first time that the exhibition has used all 12 halls of the ADNEC complex. That’s 55,000 sq m of exhibits from over 900 exhibitors representing more than 50 countries.
And still it spills over, with vehicles, aircraft and weapons parked up around the site so that visitors can kick the tyres of their potential new toys in the fresh air and test drive things like BAE Systems’ RG 31 mine protected vehicles around the demonstration track.
For the first time, the show has also expanded to include a naval dimension on-site, a new 6m-deep channel being specially dredged to enable corvettes and baby frigates to tie up alongside the shiny new 350m-long quay. Amphibious demonstrations are staged daily.
In the world of bombs and guns, it doesn’t get much bigger than this and on the surface business seems to be booming. Despite the show’s regional pretensions, however, most of the money washing around seems to be coming from the hosts. At the last IDEX, in 2007, over $500m of defence contracts were signed, but just under 70 per cent of that was for kit destined for the UAE forces. This year the trend seems to be following the same pattern.
To give you a flavour, just two of a flurry of contracts announced in the opening days of the show set out a new armoured vehicle assembly plant to be built for Hydra Trading in Abu Dhabi, the refit of 12 UAE Navy patrol craft and an order for 12 more from Abu Dhabi Ship Building and Swede Ship Marine.
Indeed, the contracts have underwritten a new phrase, “Emiratisation”, which describes how the country demands offset deals and inward investment in exchange for its dirham.
An interesting spin off of this is the US’s Raytheon, which has partnered with the UAE’s Emirates Advanced Investments to develop a new Laser Guided Rocket (LGR) for the Apache attack helicopter. The US has tried to develop similar systems domestically for several years under the stillborn Advanced Precision Kill Weapon System, but programmes have come and gone with budget funding. So the State Department helped set up the LGR deal with the unstated intention to let the UAE pick up the development costs of a new weapon system that the US can then buy off the shelf. As a result, the UAE is quietly setting about becoming something of a regional defence industry powerhouse.
Unusual things for your IDEX shopping list:
Sand-X Motors and Swiss Arms AG’s new Sand-X 800 –
Love child of a snowmobile and a quad bike. MMIST’s SnowGoose Bravo – Resurrecting the gyrocopter with an unmanned, electric motor twist.
Rosoboronexport’s Splav –
artillery-launched unmanned aerial vehicle that unfolds from its “cocoon” as it swings under a parachute.
SIS’s Magnetron Microwave Jammer –
Seen at IDEX fitted to a Porsche 997 Turbo, this microwave emitter burns and cooks would-be suicide bombers and car-jackers.
Spelco’s Gryphon wing kit –
A rigid wing backpack that enables special forces parachutists to fly like Superman, reaching up to 40km from a 10,000m jump.
Aselsan’s Python thermal weapon sight and Pirites monocle –
Handy to aim around corners at night.
India’s Cochin Shipyard was due at the end of February to start laying the keel of the country’s new indigenous aircraft carrier (the first to be built in the country) with an ambitious plan to get the ship into the water within two to three years.
The Indian Navy is also waiting on the successful upgrade and overhaul of the Kiev-class Admiral Gorshkov by Russia. It is currently four years behind schedule and counting. India isn’t now expected to receive the Russian aircraft carrier until 2014.
Memo to the US Defense Department: resource the Advisor Mission in Afghanistan
By John Nagl
The US military is struggling to adapt to a world in which the most pressing challenges to American power come not from states that are too strong but from ones that are not strong enough. From Afghanistan to Mexico, the US confronts insurgents, terrorists and criminal gangs who take advantage of corrupt, incompetent, or non-existent governments to spread disorder.
This is a problem that the US can’t kill or capture its way out of. Instead, the US military should focus on helping to build up the security capabilities of legitimate governments to defend their citizens from illegal violence. The latest National Defense Strategy (2008) acknowledges this: “Arguably the most important military component of the struggle against violent extremists is not the fighting we do ourselves, but how well we help prepare our partners to defend and govern themselves.”
But the US has not yet put adequate resources into this mission. In November, the commander in charge of building security forces in Afghanistan reported a shortfall of 3,300 advisers required by the Afghan army and police alone. Traditionally, this mission would be performed by Special Forces but demand of these troops exceeds supply. The army has had to make do with soldiers drawn from the main army, but these are under-resourced.
The Afghan army is the most respected institution in that troubled country. Unfortunately, there are too few Afghan soldiers and not enough Americans advising them. The Pentagon is writing a new strategy for Afghanistan; it will have to include a bigger Afghan National Army, supported by more advisers. Failing states need help more than bullets.
John Nagl is president of the Center for a New American Security