Opinion: Two Trade Shows Illustrate The Shifting Winds In Defense

uncrewed combat aerial vehicle
Turkey hopes to build on the success of its TB2 Bayraktar with the Akinci high-altitude, long-endurance uncrewed combat aerial vehicle (pictured).
Credit: Tony Osborne/AW&ST

Two defense exhibitions that took place during the first week of September highlighted some of the shifts occurring in the defense landscape: Global military spending growth and deglobalization will reshape defense markets in the 2020s.

The 30th International Defense Industry Exhibition MSPO in Poland was the larger of the two, befitting Poland’s ambitious defense modernization plans. It intends to raise defense spending to 3% of GDP in 2023 and pledged in July to raise it to 5% of GDP, though a specific date for that has not been set. The Fourth Azerbaijan International Defense Exhibition (ADEX) was smaller, as Azerbaijan’s annual defense budget is nowhere near Poland’s.

The shows provided three takeaways:

• Turkey is pushing to become a more important factor in global defense soon.

• Russia’s defense sector may not be as isolated internationally as sanctions and export controls imposed in early 2022 might suggest.

• China has not yet emerged as a factor in the global defense trade, other than in a few niches. That is likely to change in the 2020s, but domestic needs may take priority.

Poland is one of the few countries that is both modernizing and expanding the size of its military. Some of its major modernization programs include combat aircraft (32 Lockheed Martin F-35As, 48 Korea Aerospace Industries FA-50s), main battle tanks (250 General Dynamics M1A2 SEPv3s and 180 Hyundai Rotem K2 Black Panthers), 212 Hanwha K9A1 self--propelled artillery pieces, 500 Lockheed Martin HIMARS rocket artillery units and 14 batteries of Raytheon Patriot air defense systems. During MSPO, Poland announced that it would purchase 96 Boeing AH-64 Apache helicopters.

MSPO included more than 600 exhibitors, some of which were government agencies, media and even museums in Poland. Not surprisingly, more than half were listed as domiciled in Poland. Thirty separate entities were listed under PGZ S.A., the Polish Armaments Group, a state-owned holding company. Some European firms have Polish subsidiaries, too, notably Thales and Saab.

The U.S. was represented by 54 exhibitors, including all the U.S. primes (Boeing, General Dynamics, L3Harris, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman and Raytheon Technologies). Some smaller public companies also exhibited, such as Aerovironment and Kratos, but service-focused companies like CACI or Leidos did not. And none of the new U.S. startups exhibited, though Anduril has been supporting Ukraine’s military and is working with Australia on an uncrewed undersea program.

Turkey and Germany both had 29 exhibitors, and Turkey is listed as a “lead nation” on the MSPO website. Some of the major Turkish companies exhibiting included Aselsan (defense electronics), Baykar (which makes the Bayraktar TB2 armed UAV), Havelsan (software/cybersecurity) and Roketsan (missiles, precision-guided weapons). The TB2 has been Turkey’s most successful defense export product, and so far the country has been able to achieve a balance between sales to Russia and to countries that are Russian adversaries/competitors. It clearly sees a market in Poland for expansion.

Only four South Korean companies exhibited, but that number does not capture the role South Korea is playing in Poland’s defense modernization, as noted above.

Australia and Canada had 21 and 17 exhibitors, respectively, with General Dynamics Canada (wheeled combat vehicles) listed as one of the Canadian companies. Most are small private enterprises.

The defense sectors of some countries were not widely represented at MSPO, if at all. For example, Israel’s Rafael exhibited, but Elbit and Israel Aerospace Industries did not. No companies from Brazil or India exhibited, and just three Chinese companies participated, including one that provides test equipment. Poland’s neighboring states had multiple exhibitors, including the Czech Republic (eight), Slovakia (12) and Ukraine (four). There were 13 exhibitors from Estonia.

ADEX reported a total of 149 non-media exhibitors. Most were from Turkey, with 47 enterprises listed. The Russian Federation was next with 26, then Azerbaijan with 22 and Belarus with 12. Israel had nine exhibitors, and Iran had six. There was one from China and none from North or South America.

Though smaller than the giant international airshows, these events in Azerbaijan and Poland may prove to be a bellwether for a less interdependent future.

Byron Callan

Contributing columnist Byron Callan is a director at Capital Alpha Partners in Washington.