Making a Defense Show Bigger

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Trade shows can seem anachronistic. In an age where you can instantly inundate a customer on the other side of the world with video, graphics and text about your product, a huge share of the aerospace and defense marketing dollar is still spent on a format that dates to the early Middle Ages, when the swordsmiths of Northern Germany would descend upon Cologne for a week of bragging, dealmaking, drinking, wenching, and hitting one another with loaded sticks.


Hardly anyone uses loaded sticks any more, but many industry people today will freely say that there are too many shows, some of marginal value and some that are little more than national shakedown schemes: show up or don't expect to sell in this market.

London's Defense & Security Equipment International show is expanding, despite the foregoing concerns and despite a stronger-than-usual protest movement. Having already replaced "Systems" with "Security" in its name, the show is now promoting itself to military aerospace producers in a bigger way than before.

That is logical in terms of what defense trade shows deliver -- which, above all, is access for the exhibitors to high-level military delegations. When the organizers look at the show floor, they want to see a lot of khaki, blue, white and gold among the pinstripes. DSEi, with its ancestry in British land and sea shows that were mostly government-organized, does well in this respect. Like the Eurosatory show, it's also close to the center of one of the world's megacities, supplying delegates with transport and accommodation, but it scores over its French rival in having a sea component. Presumably, the organizers now feel that the show now draws enough joint-staff and ministry-level attention to draw aircraft-oriented exhibitors as well.

There was a time when DSEi seemed to be backing off from things with wings and rotors, in an unspoken agreement with Farnborough. However, facts and figures are stubborn things, and the commercial aerospace industry dominates air shows today through sheer size. A setting like DSEi does not accommodate flying displays, of course, but even the big air shows are less about aerobatics than they used to be, and more about partnerships and supply chains.

Meanwhile, one group of protesters claims that it stopped "a row of tanks" from entering the exhibit area, which seems doubtful unless you accept the peace activists' definition of "tank" as "anything with tracks that is green and doesn't say CAT on the back." I'm not sure that there was even one tank at the show two years ago. 

We'll be posting more news from DSEi, which opens Tuesday, as the week goes on.

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