Thirty years after the launch of the biennial IDEX show in 1993, and 12 years after the first NAVDEX, Abu Dhabi is again preparing to break records with the latest edition of the twin exhibitions.
IDEX and NAVDEX are held under the patronage of His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, president of the UAE.
The shows have witnessed a phenomenal growth in the number of exhibiting companies, the volume of deals done, and the number of visitors.
IDEX once claimed to be the only international defence exhibition and conference in the MENA region that demonstrated the latest technology across the land, sea and air domains. Now, of course, it has a rival in the shape of Saudi Arabia’s World Defense Show, but IDEX is established, highly regarded, and still represents the ‘gold standard’ of defence exhibitions.
The 2021 IDEX/NAVDEX show was a stunning success, with 35 national pavilions and more than 900 local, regional, and international companies from 59 countries exhibiting, and attracting more than 62,000 visitors.
And the organisers are not content to rest on their laurels, with this year’s event introducing a host of new features.
The new ‘IDEX Next Gen’ is a space dedicated to start-ups, and intended to allow entrepreneurs to demonstrate their technologies, services and solutions to leading figures in the defence and naval industry.
There will also be a new ‘innovation trail’, providing a focused and curated journey through the exhibition space, highlighting the latest products and innovations.
The Abu Dhabi National Exhibitions Company (ADNEC, sometimes rendered as Adnec to save confusion with the venue) and the UAE Ministry of Defence have organised IDEX and NAVDEX.
ADNEC is hosting a series of high-level round table discussions between prominent industry thought leaders and commentators. These aim to cover the most critical and important issues facing the defence and naval sectors, and to collaborate on focused industry reports. Using dedicated free-to-attend theatres, IDEX and NAVDEX will provide sessions that will allow attendees to learn about the latest and most critical industry topics.
The IDEX talks will include sessions covering the global defence sector, while the NAVDEX talks, which will be held in the brand new marina hall, will focus on the naval defence industry.
ADNEC promise that subject areas will include motivational masterclasses, women and youth in defence, and defence heroes.
For fans of defence history there will be a ‘defence through the decades’ interactive gallery, highlighting products and technology from the last 30 years.
When the Emirati defence industry began, it was relatively small in scale, and many of the players were the result of ‘offset deals’, set up with the aid of US and European prime contractors. Those days are long gone, and companies like the UAE’s Edge group are today major global players.
In December 2020, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) ranked Edge as the 22nd largest among the world’s arms companies, while, in July 2021, Defense News ranked the company 24th on the list.
The Emirati defence industry has reached this position as a result of strong local demand for military equipment, products and services, combined with a desire to reduce the UAE’s dependence on imported weapons and foreign suppliers.
Tawazun Council, as the UAE’s defence and security acquisitions authority for both the UAE Armed Forces and for the Abu Dhabi Police, has encouraged this shift. But, while the local armed forces were the primary customer for the Emirati defence industry when it began, many of the leading companies have now built up successful export businesses.
The Edge Group, an IDEX strategic partner, was established in November 2019, absorbing more than 25 entities from the Emirates Defence Industries Company (EDIC), Emirates Advanced Investments Group (EAIG), Tawazun Holding, and other organisations. EDIC, itself, had been formed five years earlier through the merger of 11 defence subsidiaries of Mubadala Development, Tawazun Holding and Emirates Advanced Invest Group.
The Edge Group is organised between four core clusters – platforms & systems, weapons & missiles, electronic warfare & cyber technologies, and training & mission support. Within these clusters are a number of significant exporters.
The platforms and systems cluster, for example, includes Abu Dhabi Ship Building (ADSB), which gained its first naval export order in 2005, building a 64-metre multi-role landing craft for the Royal Navy of Oman.
Armoured vehicle manufacturer, NIMR, has supplied vehicles to the UAE, but also to Algeria, Jordan, Lebanon, Libya, Saudi Arabia, Turkmenistan and Yemen.
Abu Dhabi Autonomous Systems Inc (ADASI) develops autonomous systems including loitering munitions and unmanned aircraft, most notably the Al Sabr S-100 and the Garmoosha, and exports would seem likely in the medium term.
The missiles and weapons cluster includes AL TARIQ, whose long-range guided weapons kits have been exported to Egypt, and small arms manufacturer CARACAL, whose pistols, sub-machine guns, assault and sniper rifles have been exported to Algeria, Ethiopia, Jordan, and the Libyan National Army.
Like Edge, IDEX now has a truly global reach, attracting the largest global defence companies.
As the UAE has sought to diversify its sources of supply (as illustrated by its selection of the Chinese L-15 jet trainer) IDEX is becoming a more and more important platform for non-traditional suppliers to the emirate, allowing them to start to familiarise Emirati, GCC and MENA customers with their offerings.
There will be substantial participation by Russian companies, reflecting both the importance that Russia attaches to the GCC region, but also allowing a Russian industry that would be constrained from appearing at many exhibitions by the sanctions and restrictions imposed as a result of the ongoing war in Ukraine.
During his visit to the UAE in October 2022, Russian President Vladimir Putin met Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan and highlighted the importance that he places on relations between Russia and the UAE as “an important factor of stability in the world despite all the difficulties that exist in the international relations today”.
Because IDEX attracts political and military leaders, ministers, senior officials, decision-makers, and experts and specialists from all over the world, the show also provides a global ‘shop window’ for Emirati exporters. IDEX and NAVDEX thereby provide a useful, if not unrivalled, platform for partnerships and cooperation to be explored and discussed.
The chairman of the higher organizing committee for IDEX and NAVDEX, His Excellency Staff Major General Pilot Faris Khalaf Al Mazrouei, said: “Thanks to the directives of our wise leadership, the UAE has been able to build an advanced system for the national defence industries.
“This year’s edition represents an exceptional opportunity to further Abu Dhabi’s position as a leading global hub, and demonstrates the Emirate’s capability to host one of the world’s most strategic and vital defence exhibitions.”
The continuing success of IDEX and NAVDEX is also helping to consolidate the position of Abu Dhabi as a centre of business tourism and a destination for major business events.
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