There is always an element of surrealism at gun fairs. You pick it up in the cheerful tone of the vendors peddling new tools of destruction; in euphemisms – “defense” instead of “war”, “weapon platforms” instead of “cannon” – scattered across glossy brochures; in a mini-lesson given by a hilarious ex-soldier on best practices for operating an anti-tank missile system.
Now to this is added the excitement of the largest land-based armed conflict in Europe in recent decades, namely: Russian invasion of Ukrainewhich clarified one thing: nothing revitalizes military affairs like war.
The fighting in Ukraine, now in its second year, has spurred the global arms trade, stoking a new appetite for materiel not only in Moscow and Kiev, but around the world as countries brace for a possible confrontation. The war disrupted longstanding relationships in the arms industry, changed the calculation of who sells what to whom, and changed customer tastes for what do they want in their arsenal.
Signs of these shifts abounded last week at the International Defense Exhibition and Conference, or IDEX, a biennial arms bazaar in the Emirates capital, Abu Dhabi. This year’s show According to the organizers, this is the largest event in its 30-year history, which was attended by 1,350 companies, 350 delegations and about 130,000 visitors from 65 countries.
They flooded the Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Center with armored vehicles, attack aircraft and air, land and sea drones sufficient to equip a not-so-small army.
Defense spending is on the rise in European countries seeking to maintain supplies at home while helping arm Kyiv with rocket launchers, missiles and tanks. The German government got rid of its common indecisiveness in military matters and promised to spend $100 billion to re-equip its armed forces, although no money has yet been spent on armaments.
In Asia, Japan and South Korea are increasing military spending in response to China, whose defense budget grew by 7% in 2022. That marks Beijing’s biggest annual gain in absolute terms, at $16 billion inflation-adjusted, according to the report. London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies.
Experts say arms stocks have surged to their best level in years on the stock market, with defense sector indices well ahead of those that track the broader market. This changes the trend before the summer Ukrainian war of people invest in so-called ESG investments “those that focus on the environment, social and corporate governance rather than the defense industry,” said Kevin Craven, head of ADS Group, a trade body representing British aerospace, defense, security and space companies.
“Now, a year later, you see people remember that the first duty of government is to protect its citizens, and in fact the freedoms that we have require a strong military capability and defense industry,” Craven said.
He added that Britain strongly supports Ukraine – it is the second largest supplier of military aid after the United States, supplying anti-tank missiles, artillery and armored vehicles Aroused interest in these products from potential buyers.
Emirati officials insisted that the event was about commerce, not geopolitics. During his visit to the fair, Emirati President Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan said it highlights the “Emirati approach to building bridges of communication and cooperation” to achieve “peace, stability and a better future for humanity,” local media reported. despite the lethal nature of the product.
An example of new cooperation could be the growing military relations of the Emirates with Israel, which had no less than 60 companies in the pavilion. two nations who officially recognized each other less than three years ago they started joint development of weapons; At IDEX, Emirati defense conglomerate Edge unveiled an unmanned boat it worked on with Israel Aerospace Industries.
But the war in Ukraine has complicated business relations with Russia. The Emirates, a major US regional ally seeking closer military ties with Washington, risked a backlash by welcoming a significant portion of Russian business – along with many expats – blacklisted by the West.
In January, Washington sent Treasury officials to the Emirates to warn Abu Dhabi that it would “continue apply their sanctions aggressivelyagainst Russian individuals and entities, and that companies doing business in so-called “permissive jurisdictions” risk losing access to US and European markets. Last week, he imposed sanctions on a Russian bank that was recently allowed to start operations in the Emirates.
Despite international sanctions, Moscow has sent its leading defense enterprises to Abu Dhabi. In what may have been a hint of political sensibility, their exhibits were housed in the open area of the convention—about a seven-minute walk from the Ukrainian and American pavilions in the main exhibition area.
To the side of the Russian display, a quartet of blondes urged visitors to check out civilian versions of helicopters from manufacturers Mil and Kamov as combat footage of their military counterparts was shown on a giant screen. On the other side there was a large tent that served as a special pavilion for the Russian firms Kalashnikov, Rosoboronexport and Almaz-Antey, where about 200 full-scale samples of weapons, military equipment and ammunition were presented, including many samples Now the equipment is deployed in Ukraine.
Inside the tent, dozens of potential clients—Algerian generals, representatives of several Asian countries, pot-bellied men surrounded by surly bodyguards—loitered around dioramas with Grad rocket launchers and inspected shelves of weapons.
“The situation with sanctions creates a certain closeness of relations, negotiations, and we try not to talk about it. But it’s safe to say that Russian weapons are in great demand and authority,” Alexander Mikheev, general director of Rosoboronexport, told the Russian state news agency TASS. “That’s why we’re here: to maintain relationships with our partners.”
The weapons on display at IDEX show how the war has shifted development towards loitering munitions. cheap exploding drones who can watch the battlefield from above and then crash into the target. In recent months, Russia has used exploding Iranian-made drones in a devastating campaign against Ukrainian infrastructure. (Iran did not participate in IDEX.)
“The entire product line of the group is in demand, but unmanned aerial vehicles are the priority,” said Alan Lushnikov, president of the Russian Kalashnikov group of companies, in an interview with TASS, adding that the unmanned aerial vehicle of the KUB company is a bestseller.
“The volume of orders has grown significantly,” Lushnikov said. “The group’s enterprises are working in a more intensive mode.”
Neither Lushnikov nor the head of Rosoboronexport, Mikheev, were available for an interview with The Times, despite repeated requests.
Faisal Bannai, head of the Emirati conglomerate Edge, said the war in Ukraine proved just how autonomous systems and electronic warfare became for client countries.
“That’s where the market is. That’s where the future is,” Bannay said, adding, “I can sell ammo or bombs, but that’s not where the bulk of my business comes from.”
Bahadir Özer, director of business development for Turkish drone manufacturer Baykar, agreed that the war in Ukraine “has been a huge advertisement for us.”
Even before the conflict began, the company supplied the Bayraktar TB2 unmanned aerial vehicle to Kyiv, a relatively inexpensive unmanned aerial vehicle that was used for great effect in conflicts such as in Nagorno-Karabakh, Libya and Syria. He proved no less deadly against Russian armored vehicles in Ukraine, so much so that some Ukrainians sang his prowess in song.
“TB2 has been successful for a long time, but now the difference is that we have caught the attention of the West,” Ozer said, adding that NATO member Poland and 28 other countries have purchased Bayraktar drones. More countries are interested.
“They’ve been field-tested – that’s very important,” Ozer said.
Even Ukraine, despite the Russian attack. more than a year, was presented in Abu Dhabi. Stanislav Shyldsky, business development manager for drone manufacturer Ukrspets, described the moment when Russian journalists came to see the Ukrainian pavilion at the main convention center.
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“They told us, ‘Guys, you don’t have anything. The next day they wrote an article that the Ukrainian pavilion is very small,” Shildsky said. “It was pretty childish and we told them to stop filming.”
He said that most of what Ukrainian firms produced transition to domestic consumptionbut visiting a gun show like IDEX was still important.
“This is a good time for us to be here to show the world that we are alive, working, making great products,” he said. “The war introduces people to Ukraine. It’s not the best. But of course they are more interested.”
Not far from the pavilion of Ukraine, Belarus, where on the side of Russia in the conflict, occupied a large corner podium with several meeting rooms. One of the half-dozen trade representatives said the sanctions had little impact on their trade.
“In fact, interest in us has become more after the sanctions. If someone wants to impose sanctions on you, then we are strong,” he said, adding that the bans were a hindrance only in the first two months of their application. He spoke on condition of anonymity to comment on geopolitical issues.
“We expected it to be more difficult to run a business, but when there is interest, the client will always find a way to make it work.”