War fair hits London
The future of warfare came to the north shore of the River Thames last week when the city’s chief exposition center hosted defense manufacturers, military procurement officers and a contingent of media from around the globe.
The Defence Systems and Equipment International — the DSEi — is a biennial event that bills itself as the world’s largest arms fair with approximately 1,000 exhibitors showcasing the latest in land, air and sea military technology to roughly 20,000 visitors by invitation only.
The four-day event kicked off Sept. 11 at the ExCel Center outside East London’s Canary Wharf financial district amid tight security that included scores of uniformed and plainclothes police and private security guards.
Among the exhibitors were some of the most prominent U.S. military suppliers, including Raytheon, General Dynamics, Northrop Grumman and Lockheed Martin, as well as British defense giant BAE Systems.
But the show was also an opportunity for lesser-known military equipment providers to showcase their wares.
Vendors from Pakistan, India, Israel, Turkey, Sweden, China, Italy and the United Arab Emirates jammed the center alongside the traditional defense manufacturers to hawk missiles, bombs, aircraft, tanks, reconnaissance and intelligence equipment and force-protection gear. They also offered components to maintain or improve nearly everything sold.
The most visible trend was increased attention to and sophistication in unmanned vehicles and aircraft.
The increased reliance on the military’s “unmanned aerial vehicles” in combat zones for surveillance, reconnaissance and weapon delivery has not gone unnoticed by manufacturers wanting to compete with General Atomic's Predator and Northrop Grumman’s Global Hawk, both used by the U.S. Air Force downrange.
The unmanned aircraft are also attractive to police departments far from combat zones.
The British Broadcasting Corp. reported last month that Staffordshire police used miniature unmanned helicopter to provide surveillance at a rock festival, sparking cries from civil libertarians about invasion of privacy and overzealous policing.
For the military, UAVs provide a real-time, low-cost, high-yield tactical advantage in the battlefield. “Those who know, can make decisions,” said Bengt Larson, a spokesman for Saab, which was showing the Skeldar V-250, one of the most ambitious UAVs.
The Skeldar is an unmanned helicopter being marketed for both military and civilian use. It is roughly the size of a golf cart, maneuvered by a remote control and can be operated by a group of four people.
Its main advantage over traditional fixed-wing UAVs is that, like its manned predecessor, it needs very little room to take off or land, and can still provide instantaneous reconnaissance.
It can also be use to ferry goods through conflict zones without endangering a human crew.
Israel-based manufacturer ITL introduced the Lightener mini-UAV, which can be carried in a backpack and unfolded and deployed in minutes.
The Lightener requires very little training, can stay aloft for more than two hours and climb up to 10,000 feet while providing video and telemetry information.
On the ground, manufacturers are striving to develop the next generation of robotics to defeat America’s most frustrating nemesis in Iraq and, of late, Afghanistan: the roadside bomb.
Among the most impressive tools in the evolving fight is SAIC Limited’s Seeker Robot, which is essentially a souped-up, remote-controlled monster truck outfitted with two cameras. It gives troops the ability to make quick, close inspection of a suspected bomb without direct human intervention.
“It’s all about getting the information to the guys making decisions on the ground,” SAIC spokesman Mark Haselden said.
The Seeker Robot is small, robust and relatively cheap, designed to be deployed en masse at $35,000 each.
Areva, the state-owned French arms developer, showcased an exciting project now being incorporated by British and U.S. Special Forces. It’s an acoustic device that detects and locates gunfire, helping troops in the field quickly identify snipers in urban terrain.
There were literally hundreds of other vendors demonstrating items ranging from tuxedo vests converted into bullet-resistant vests, to a spray-on polymer that enhances the strength of armor.