With the impending near-term threat of sequestration in the United States and the certain decrease in U.S. defense spending over the next five years, markets in the Middle East and Asia stand out as key customers for American aerospace and defense companies in search of new and sustainable business opportunities.
Against this backdrop, Abu Dhabi’s International Defense Exhibition and Conference (IDEX 2013) in February and the Dubai Air Show, taking place in November, have emerged as the “must attend” trade events for the industry.
In the face of emerging threats to regional security, a rapid evolution of cyber and terror threats globally and developing situations in Iran and Syria, IDEX stands apart from other regional forums as the only major international defense and security conference held in the Middle East-North Africa region that provides an open and transparent business development venue for military, defense and commercial stakeholders.
In that regard, IDEX will attract senior government and industry delegations from around the world. Further, new international sales that will define the future of the industry are expected to be announced and signed during IDEX.
For its part, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) has assumed a vital role in support of multilateral efforts to secure international trade routes and protect the region against state and nonstate actors that threaten stability. In doing so, the UAE hopes to serve as one positive example that others in this turbulent region might strive to emulate.
These efforts complement each other and are supported by commercial relationships with global firms, including strategic partnerships with American companies supporting the development of the UAE’s land, air and naval defense capabilities and servicing the U.S. military presence in the country.
In fact, the UAE government has selected commercial aerospace and defense as a key sector to develop domestically, as outlined in UAE Vision 2021, the country’s federal economic development scheme. The country is diversifying its national economy and building sufficient local capacity to support economic growth for decades.
Mubadala Aerospace, a subsidiary of Abu Dhabi’s state-owned investment vehicle Mubadala Development Co., is leading this effort by providing capital to fund subsidiaries and to recruit industry thought leaders from the U.S. and around the world to train and work alongside Emiratis.
Other local companies, such as Tawazun, the International Golden Group and Emirates Advanced Investments, are greatly contributing to the UAE’s efforts to build a niche defense industry in the areas of sustainment; maintenance, repair and overhaul; and manufacturing. Notably, over 147 UAE-based companies will be exhibiting at this year’s IDEX, with many ready to serve as the “go to” partners for U.S. defense firms hoping to find new business opportunities in the UAE and across the region.
Regionally, countries have also placed a renewed emphasis on developing homeland security capabilities, critical national infrastructure protection and new cyber defense systems to protect domestic interests and allow for the cultivation of sustainable economic relationships. In the face of these emerging threats, countries are strengthening security capabilities while forming strategic partnerships to bolster broader efforts under the shield of common security and foreign policy objectives.
Attending IDEX will allow decision-makers in the region to advance existing commercial partnerships and form new relationships key to their national interests and regional security.
As host of IDEX 2013, the UAE has an opportunity to leverage this year’s conference to showcase its critical role as a maintainer and promoter of regional economic stability and global energy security, as well as its ambition to establish a sustainable defense industry linked to the global defense market.
IDEX also provides a platform to highlight the UAE’s current manufacturing capabilities to global consumers and its strategy to develop its commercial defense and security industries.
Finally, with the large U.S. government and military delegation expected to attend IDEX this year, the defense show offers multiple opportunities for government and industry to discuss problems associated with the slow process of U.S. technology release, the growing demand and burden of defense offsets and the barriers to closer defense industrial cooperation. Making progress on resolving some of these thorny problems will go a long way in growing and sustaining opportunities in this market.
With the amount of sales announced during IDEX 2013 expected to be the largest ever, exposure provided to U.S. firms at this year’s show will likely drive their sales in the region for the next five years.
By Danny Sebright, president of the U.S.-U.A.E. Business Council and a counselor at The Cohen Group in Washington. He has worked on defense and security matters related to the Middle East under six U.S. secretaries of defense.