DSEi: That’s a Wrap

Angus Batey writes:

The last day of Defense Systems and Equipment International (DSEi) always has a very different feel. The reasons are several, but the most obvious is that far fewer people attend. Military delegations from across the world were here at the beginning of the show, and in most cases will have long since left London; the seminar and conference program ended yesterday, so there are no people here just to speak at sessions, and less reason for curious delegates to turn up for a fourth day. Even the media presence is vastly reduced: by 08:30 on every other morning, the Media Center bar has been doing a bustling trade in bacon rolls and black coffee -- this morning, as I write, there are three of us here: two journalists and Selex ES's indefatigable UK press manager.

So an "after the Lord Mayor's show" atmosphere is inevitable, but there has been a slightly resigned or nonplussed feel to proceedings all week.

The gloomy economic climate mitigates against bullish displays of expensive industrial innovation: the bits of kit that are on the DSEi stands for the first time are mainly just things that have been knocking around for a while, but are receiving their big promotional push here. And where novel ideas are being unveiled, the lack of appetite for risk is evident: these products are mainly tackling established needs and have been designed in response to specific requirements. In short, there's nothing here that's really “new.”

There has also been a distinct lack of new business. The steady stream of press releases flowing from the 1500-plus exhibitors here keep trying to trumpet new deals and beefed-up orders: but drill down below the hyperbole a little and you find that most of these aren't truly new contracts -- it's stuff agreed on weeks or sometimes months ago, the announcement held back to give the companies something to shout about at the one occasion every two years when the eyes of the media are on them. There are, of course, exceptions to the rule -- on the Finmeccanica stand, Jan Boyes, sales lead for Selex ES's UK thermal camera business, reports closing several deals during the show, and rates it as one of the most productive events the company has attended in recent years; and lots of exhibitors report strong interest and "the right people" dropping by their stands -- but the event is not exactly awash with new money flowing in to the defense industry's coffers.

All of which may give some succor to the Stop DSEi movement, the aggregation of different anti-arms trade protest groups and individuals whose presence outside the event keeps the extensive security operation busy, trying to ensure it remains close to invisible to delegates. They may be behind barricades and kept on the margins, but their arguments are still being heard -- particularly in discussions about unmanned aircraft, where references to public perception and the "drones debate" have been much more prevalent than at any similar past event during presentations and seminars given by members of industry and various militaries from show platforms. They may not have succeeded in their apparent attempt to "Occupy DSEi" -- the by now depressingly familiar mid-show ritual of two exhibitors being kicked out for plugging illegal goods had seemed to be the protesters' high point, but they have at least occupied some of the minds here. And the lack of business being done, if not attributable to their efforts, will surely mean that at least one part of the DSEi ecosystem has had some welcome news this week.

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