This year’s Defence and Security Equipment International (DSEI) event, held at London’s renowned ExCeL convention centre from 12 to 15 September, was heralded as the biggest and the best yet – and with over 36,000 visitors, 1600 exhibitors, 42 international pavilions and nearly 300 international speakers, it is easy to see why.
Those attending for the first time would be forgiven for being taken aback by the sheer scale of DSEI as visitors were given the opportunity to see seven warships in the docks situated outside the event’s halls in addition to half a dozen helicopters in the East Terrace.
DSEI kicked off with the now traditional address by the First Sea Lord, Admiral Sir Philip Jones, who spoke about how the future of the Royal Navy would be driven through innovation – a key theme that ran throughout this year’s programme.
Sir Philip was followed by a series of keynote speakers including the Secretary of State for International Trade, Dr Liam Fox, who outlined how DSEI enabled stricter controls of arms sales and prevented an increase of unregulated sales.
Dr Fox said: “If nations and peoples have an inalienable right to look after their own defence, those of us from advanced economies must remember that if we do not provide countries with means of defending themselves, then we will see a proliferation of uncontrolled and unregulated arms sales free from oversight or inhibitions.
“To allow such a situation to develop would be vastly irresponsible.”
Following on from his recent unveiling of the new National Shipbuilding Strategy, Secretary of State for Defence, Sir Michael Fallon, told the East Theatre that Britain would “spread its wings across the world” and look to increase its share of the international defence market.
Sir Michael also said the UK performed strongly in the international market in 2016, securing defence orders totalling £5.9 billion, thereby retaining its position as the second largest defence exporter globally over the last ten years.
He commented: “It’s time to build exportability into our thinking from the off, aligning it with the requirements of international clients, allowing for the open architecture that can plug and play with different bits of capability.”
Sir Michael also took the opportunity to reveal a contract worth up to £55 million for 56 innovative bomb disposal robots and noted that UK personnel will now be protected by a new lightning-fast protection system called ‘Icarus’ developed by the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl).
Elsewhere, Jorge Domecq, Chief Executive at the European Defence Agency (EDA), used his address to promote the organisation’s efforts to improve defence cooperation in Europe through the implementation of the European Defence Fund and the EDA promoting and engaging with the European defence industry.
He said: “A strong, competitive and innovative defence industry is a prerequisite for developing and maintaining state-of-the-art defence capabilities.”
As anybody who has attended DSEI before will know, making your way through all the exhibitors is no mean feat.
Among the 1600 exhibitors, there was a strong representation from SMEs within the defence industry alongside many long-time returning companies such as BAE Systems, Land Rover, Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, Rolls-Royce, Saab, Singapore Technologies and Thales – all showcasing their latest innovative products.
Babcock International unveiled their new state-of-the-art general-purpose frigate – the Arrowhead 120 – designed with one eye on the National Shipbuilding Strategy and the advance iFrigate concept.
BAE Systems showcased their new unmanned ground vehicle, Ironclad, and the NAUTIS 5 – the latest version of the company’s flagship Mine Counter Measures system.
Andrew Tyler, Chief Executive of Northrop Grumman Europe, said the reason why DSEI was able to attract the industry’s leading players was because it is simply the “biggest and the best”.
He commented: “This is a show that brings together customers and industrial partners from all across the world and all across the military domains. For a company like ourselves, which is very large – working across navies, armies, air forces, joint commands and cyber security forces – this is where it all comes together.”
Aeron Lloyd, Managing Director of Safety Devices International, was exhibiting at the event and was impressed with the representation of SMEs and how DSEI gave him a great opportunity to renew relationships with clients.
He explained: “The great thing about DSEI is that it puts you in contact with end users. It’s also a good opportunity to see familiar faces and keep in touch with people.”
DSEI included five themed Zones – Air, Land, Naval, Security and for the first time at the event a Joint zone, which debuted with the full support of Joint Forces Command (JFC).
JFC Commander General Sir Chris Deverell said the event presented a great opportunity to engage with industry and highlight JFC’s focus on innovation.
He said: “DSEI is always important for the MOD as a whole because it provides us with a great opportunity to understand the marketplace – what industry is able to provide – and a chance for us to describe to industry what our requirements are and to have a conversation.
“This year, JFC’s particular focus is on innovation. We are very keen to attract industry attention to our JHUB, which is our innovation unit in the Joint Forces Command.”
Indeed, there was no better illustration of the recurring theme of innovation at DSEI 2017 than the dedicated Innovation Hub.
Hosted by the Defence and Security Accelerator (DASA), part of Dstl, the Innovation Hub provided an exciting new platform intended to encourage ‘imagination, ingenuity and entrepreneurship’ in the defence sector.
Alexandra Russell, Accelerator Engagement Lead at DASA, commented: “From our perspective, the Innovation Hub gives us an opportunity to demonstrate some of the products and services that have been through the Accelerator. But it’s a networking opportunity as well. We want to encourage engagement between SMEs and Dstl and we are bringing in military advisors, so it’s a good chance to meet end users.”
The last day of the conference focused on one of the defence and security sector’s key capabilities: People and Skills. The Defence Science and Technology Laboratory was on hand to offer support and encouragement to young people considering careers in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM).
Dstl’s STEM Outreach Manager Jaime Williamson said: “It’s important that students understand the opportunities available to them if they continue to pursue their STEM studies. At Dstl, our work involves solving fascinating problems for the defence and security of the UK, often with life-saving results.”
When Defence and Security Equipment International returns to London in two years time, Britain will likely no longer be a member of the European Union and facing a period of uncertainty.
The message coming from DSEI 2017 meanwhile is that through investment, the defence industry will continue to play a key role in ensuring Britain’s national and economic security.
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