LONDON — IDEX brings British industry back to the United Arab Emirates for a big exhibition for the first time since government-to-government discussions over a new defense and industrial partnership collapsed in a blaze of publicity more than 12 months ago.
Most of that coverage was generated by BAE Systems' failure to land a multibillion-pound deal to sell Typhoon combat jets to the UAE. The UK government, including Prime Minister David Cameron, had invested considerable effort to seal the deal.
The larger Anglo-UAE discussions, though, concerned much more than the Typhoons: They covered closer diplomatic and military cooperation along with the joint development of a UAV and other industrial cooperation.
Still, industry executives in Britain said, the collapse of the talks doesn't appear to have left any legacy of mistrust that might surface at IDEX.
"The atmospherics between the two sides at the highest levels will be interesting," said one executive. "Things went quiet for a while, but a lot of work has continued and I see no signs of any bitterness over the failure to cement a deal. If anything, IDEX will show British industry is as enthusiastic as it has ever been to address the UAE's military and security requirements.
"The recent merger of the country's three largest defense players has sparked the biggest change in industrial strategy we have ever seen in the [Arabian] Gulf and the show will give us all a chance to see how it looks and smells," he said.
UK-UAE military cooperation has remained close, particularly in the air sector. The British have used the facilities at the Al Minhad air base, mainly as a staging post for troops moving in and out of Afghanistan.
In December, the UK announced the expansion of a long-running naval base agreement with Bahrain, part of Britain's strategic readjustment in the region.
The British are showing growing interest in strengthening their presence in the gulf region with a defense diplomacy effort that could also see an increase in military exercises and joint training programs with Gulf Cooperation Council members.
Paul Everitt, the chief executive at the British lobby group ADS, reckons strengthening diplomatic ties is a definite plus for industry looking to export to the region.
"Defense diplomacy agreements help the UK to build long-term relationships with key allies," Everitt said. "In particular, international defense training — combined with the world-class reputation of our armed forces — can give UK industry a competitive edge in winning export business in the region."
Many of the well-known names of Britain's defense and cyber security industries will be represented, including BAE Systems, Ultra Electronics, Chemring and QinetiQ.
Some of the minnows that make up Britain's innovative small- and medium-sized company sector will be there too, including firms like unmanned underwater vehicle specialist MSubs and radar manufacturer Blighter Surveillance.
BAE's main focus, at least from the UK side of the company, will be the effort to sell Typhoons in the region. Bahrain, Qatar and additional sales to current customer Saudi Arabia are on the regional radar.
Eurofighter, the Airbus-BAE-Finmeccanica venture that manages the Typhoon program for industry, is also at IDEX with a full-scale mock-up of the fighter.
Kuwait is a potential customer, too, but the sales effort for that is being led by BAE's Eurofighter partner Finmeccanica.
The executive said other products that would attract attention included offshore patrol vessels, fast offshore patrol boats, counter-IED gear, national infrastructure protection and cyber tools.
The UK operations of US companies will also be at IDEX. Lockheed Martin UK is leading the effort to win at least two possible armored vehicle deals in the region.
Alan Lines, the managing director of Lockheed Martin's missiles and control business in the UK, said he expects a decision this year from Kuwait on an upgrade-and-support program for the Desert Warrior version of the infantry fighting vehicle operated by the gulf kingdom.
"There is the possibility of a five-year work program for the upgrade of the Kuwaiti vehicles, with an award expected in 2015," Lines said. "A win would provide hundreds of millions of pounds."
Lockheed is part-way through a potential £1 billion (US $1.5 billion) program to sustain British Army Warriors.
The UK operation is also competing with France's Nexter in Qatar to supply a turret based on the work it has been doing developing a new turret for the Warrior.
One issue potential gulf buyers of British kit will be watching with interest is the outcome of the British general election in May.
The current Conservative-led coalition government in London gets good marks for its increased defense diplomacy and support of British defense and security exports in the region, compared with the previous Labour administration of Gordon Brown.
With the two parties neck-and-neck in the election race, gulf states may just wait and see who they are dealing with, government-to-government, before any serious deals are done, a second industry executive here said.
"I wouldn't say it was a big concern, but it is something people are wary of," the executive said.
The Middle East remains a key market for British defense exports. Everitt said 55 percent of overseas sales from British industry are destined for the region.
The ADS boss said that the oil price crash will do little to divert the interest of British companies looking to export in the region.
"We do not expect the change in oil price to impact export opportunities," he said. "Decisions on defense equipment acquisition and support are about long-term relationships. Four of the five fastest-growing defense markets are in the Middle East, and growth is expected to continue over the next five years. Twenty-two percent of UK defense companies who do not already export to the Middle East are looking to pursue growth opportunities in the region over the coming year."
Others, though, are not so confident that defense spending will escape unscathed if oil prices stay low for a while.
"The smaller the country and its oil and gas reserves, the quicker they will be impacted," the first industry executive said. "People are likely to start pushing some programs out to the right or look for innovative financing solutions from Western exporters in defense and other industrial and infrastructure sectors. While it won't cast a cloud over IDEX, it will be something on people's minds."