Rafale, missile shield deals no-shows at Idex

But more companies set up shop at the exhibition than ever before, according to organisers.

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ABU DHABI // In the biggest Idex yet, held against a backdrop of regional unrest, the UAE's defence industry for the first time vied for contracts and partnerships with the "big league" franchises of the global military industry.
Yet despite costly upgrades to the country's Mirage and F-16 fighter jet fleets and Black Hawk helicopters, 23 of which will be weaponised by a local defence company, there were few headline-grabbing deals.
Two major procurements that military observers have been monitoring did not materialise.
One, the purchase of the Terminal High Altitude Air Defence (Thaad) missile shield built by Lockheed Martin, will be put to another round of talks this spring between the company and the UAE Government, according to Lockheed executives. Once completed, it would make the UAE the first customer outside the US to deploy the system. The contract could end up costing the UAE US$7 billion (Dh26bn).
The UAE had also indicated in 2008 that it intended to replace its Mirage fleet and was eyeing French Rafale jets. During Idex, UAE military officials said that while talks with Dassault, the Rafale's manufacturer, are continuing, no decisions had been made and all options were still open.
Meanwhile, a big portion of the defense contracts announced at the exhibition went to local companies. In addition, UAE firms unveiled complex military hardware, such as the Al Hosn, the Navy's new corvette, and the Nimr, an armoured military vehicle. The Armed Forces has announced it will buy 1,000 of the latter for a total price of Dh736 million.
Cybersecurity came to the fore at this year's Idex, as understanding about the need to secure communication channels and protect critical infrastructure from cyberattack grows.
The American defence giant Raytheon said it was advising the UAE on securing its future nuclear power plants from cyberattack,  stressing that cybersecurity is a challenge that needs to be addressed. A recent example of such threats is Stuxnet, a computer virus believed to have been deployed against Iran's nuclear programme.
Speaking at Idex, Admiral Michael Mullen, the US chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, addressed recent unrest when he said there was "anxiety" among regional leaders.
Idex organisers said the show's attendance was largely unaffected, but some experts have suggested arms sales should come under more scrutiny to prevent their use against civilians.
Defence executives argued during Idex that security spending is an ever more essential component of national budgets.
"There is growing instability everywhere," said Caio Mussolini, who heads the Italian company Finmeccanica in the UAE. "In general [in] security, we are in a moment where you need to be sure; safety is everything."
While defence spending faced problems in Europe, which has been cutting back on outlays for weapons and other military budget items, it was still a priority elsewhere, said Eric Trappier, executive vice president of Dassault Aviation.
"In the rest of the world there are still big budgets in defence," said Mr Trappier. "Spending in defence remains a priority for many countries."
Nevertheless, the UAE spent less at Idex this year than analysts had estimated. Most observers predicted that the country would match the Dh18.5 billion in defence contracts awarded at the 2009 show, but the Armed Forces awarded contracts worth Dh14.5 billion this time around.
kshaheen@thenational.ae