With thousands of exhibitors and two enormous exhibition halls chock full of technology, DSEI never disappoints when it comes to seeing new and interesting defence kit. The show, held at the London ExCel centre every two years, is a key date in the calendar for the industry and is used as an opportunity to bring out the big guns – literally.
The show is billed as a tri-service event, showcasing equipment from the land, sea and air domains, although like its Parisian equivalent – Eurosatory – there is a skew towards land capabilities.
Nevertheless, the event utilises the ExCel’s location next to the Thames to bring in several warships and have them berthed up during the week. The highlight this year being the Type 23 frigate HMS Argyll as well as LÉ Samuel Beckett from the Irish Naval Service.
Mirroring an increase in focus by the UK government on naval capabilities, the DSEI event also had a strong maritime flavour to it this year. This was likely influenced by several key events before the show including the naming of the second Queen Elizabeth-class carrier HMS Prince of Wales, the release of the National Shipbuilding Strategy (NSbS) and contracts placed for the new Type 26 Global Combat Ship.
Ahead of the show, our roving reporter Beth Maundrill looked at how the NSbS was was aiming to overcome past mistakes in naval programmes that saw costs balloon and fleet sizes dwindle. Speaking at the event itself, Adm Philip Jones, First Sea Lord and Chief of Naval Staff said he wanted to see the Royal Navy be ‘even faster and more agile’ in how it exploits technology advancements.
Industry is also positioning itself for a future Type 31 contract, with several companies unveiling potential designs at DSEI. Babcock showcased its Arrowhead 120 design, which is likely to compete against BMT Group for the Type 31e contract. Both companies will also be eyeing the export market, something that is being pushed in the new NSbS.
Another new naval technology unveiled at the show was the MBDA Dragonfire, part of a research programme with the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (DSTL) that aims to explore the use of directed-energy weapons, better known as lasers, onboard vessels.
Back on terra firma, it was British Army vehicle programmes that were taking up a lot of the focus. The service is currently recapitalising its fleet with both new build vehicles and upgrades. We got a little more clarity on the long-running Mechanised Infantry Vehicle programme, with an acquisition strategy now planned for later this year that will determine whether it is competed or sole-sourced.
Many companies brought along their 8×8 offerings to tempt the British Army. Unlike anything I’ve ever seen at a defence show, German company Rheinmetall rocked up with a Boxer 8×8 painted in the colours of the Union Jack. Gimmick or serious marketing strategy?
Officials also gave a little more information on the Warrior upgrade programme, with a full production contract expected next year that will give the army a fleet of modernised ‘Warrior 2’ platforms. A Warrior on display at the show was also sporting a new camouflage, known as the Barracuda Mobile Camouflage System, which Shephard discovered had been ordered in small units by the British Army, with a potentially larger order expected.
It was also announced that the British Army’s flagship acquisition, the Ajax, has now begun manned live-firing trials, which should wrap up in around five months in time for delivery to the army.
The UK defence secretary Michael Fallon also announced several contracts that aim to improve the capability of the British Army when it comes to protecting troops. These included a new EOD ground robot from Harris as well as a new £10 million initiative to study vehicle active protection systems, which is being led by Leonardo. The former programme, known as Icarus, could help the army develop technologies that effectively form a ‘shield’ around a vehicle to protect it against RPGs and anti-tank missiles.
Active protection systems are a significant topic of discussion at the moment, with several countries including China, Israel and Russia fielding some kind of capability. There is a worry among experts that the West will be left behind when it comes to utilising this kind of technology, with foreign APS-equipped vehicles potentially neutralising our current generation anti-tank capabilities.
Adding to this discourse, a BAE Systems CV90 was on display at the show that incorporated the IMI Systems Iron Fist APS technology – which will likely be fielded to the Dutch Army CV90 in the future.
Unsurprisingly, the UK-based BAE Systems took centre stage at DSEI, showing a huge array of its technologies across all domains. These technologies included the latest generation of its Broadsword soldier technologies currently undergoing evaluation with several foreign armies, as well as a new ‘Tactical Hotspot’ concept that provides voice and data communications in the most austere environments.
The company has also turned its hand to unmanned ground vehicles (UGVs) with its Ironclad concept, which could be used for medical evacuation missions on the battlefield.
Indeed, the growing importance of unmanned systems was once again evident at DSEI this year with several innovations being displayed. BAE Systems also demonstrated its P950 RIB in an unmanned configuration.
Elsewhere, Qinetiq demonstrated a new configuration for its Titan UGV (developed in cooperation with Milrem and its THeMIS). Rheinmetall Canada, fresh from unveiling its new UGV concept earlier this year, came to DSEI to show an armed configuration for its multi-mission ground vehicle. Several other armed UGVs were on display this year, including Milrem’s THeMIS, which integrated a new FN Herstal .50 cal machine gun.
The show was notable in that it had no real stand-out announcements or surprises, with a sense that many programmes and initiatives are continuing to tick over for the time being.
Many visitors will be optimistic about the market going forward, but the industry as a whole is still conscious of the uncertainty created by Brexit and the wider geostrategic environment.