DSEI Show Revives Physical Displays and In-Person Contacts

 - September 21, 2021, 5:04 AM
DSEI opened its doors in London’s Excel Centre as usual in September. Numbers were inevitably down given the current climate, but the show was welcomed by many exhibitors and potential customers. (Photo: Chris Pocock)

The first of Europe’s major defense and aerospace shows has taken place in London, after an extended hiatus caused by the Covid pandemic. The biennial Defence and Security Equipment International (DSEI) event was well-supported last week, with about 70 percent of its space filled and around 10,000 visitors, two-thirds the number for 2019.

For those unable to attend, there was an online access feature named DSEI Connect, featuring live streams of the many speeches and seminars, as well as the ability to arrange virtual or future in-person meetings with potential business partners. The event was housed in London’s Excel Centre, a very large exhibition space that last year served as an emergency hospital at the height of Britain’s virus infections.

“It was a courageous decision by Clarion Events to hold the show. When planning began in March, there was no great certainty that it could take place,” Air Vice-Marshal Gary Waterfall, a senior advisor to DSEI, told AIN. Although the event is strongly supported and influenced by the UK Ministry of Defence and government trade bodies, it is organized by Clarion, a private company. “Industry wanted to get out and about, and so did the UK frontline military commands,” said Waterfall.

The UK government made no exceptions to its virus testing rules and protocols for overseas visitors. However, mask-wearing is no longer compulsory in the UK, and very few of the participants wore one.

The show included no fewer than four seminars on the UK-led Future Combat Air System (FCAS). Officers from the UK Royal Air Force (RAF) were joined by officials from BAE Systems, Leonardo, Saab, Rolls-Royce, and Intrepid Mind Robotics to discuss the Tempest aircraft, the associated UCAVs, the emphasis on digitization, and networking concepts. British MRO company Marshall said it was joining Team Tempest by signing a contract with BAE Systems for design, manufacturing, and testing work.  

Leonardo gave details of the Boeing 757 testbed aircraft that will be used in the Tempest program. Named Excalibur, it will have a 28-tonne payload for equipment and six locations for sensors. “On-board scientists and engineers will test futuristic sensors and communications for the FCAS,” Leonardo said, adding that it it hoped that the testbed would help “cut by half the cost and time needed to build a combat aircraft.” Excalibur is expected to be used by other international flight test programs, both manned and unmanned. The aircraft is the product of two years of work by Leonardo and British MRO company 2Excel.

Leonardo also announced that Italy would join the development of the new radar for the Eurofighter Typhoon. Engineers from the company’s locations in Italy will join the Leonardo UK team that is already working on the European Common Radar System (ECRS) Mk2 at Luton and Edinburgh. Leonardo claims that the ECRS Mk2 will be “the most advanced reprogrammable radar system ever produced for a combat aircraft.”

A potential requirement from the UK Royal Air Force to replace its Puma Mk 2 medium-lift helicopters prompted Airbus Helicopters and Leonardo to display their proposed candidates. Airbus previously upgraded the RAF Puma fleet, and noted that these helicopters could fly until 2035. However, it showed an H175 and said that a final assembly line for an H175M military version could be located at the company’s Broughton factory. Leonardo displayed an AW149 that it thought was the ideal size, and could be produced at the company’s existing helicopter factory at Yeovil, with 60 percent UK content.   

Systems to counter small and medium-size drones and UAVs were exhibited and discussed throughout the show. Raytheon announced a demonstration contract from the UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) for a high-energy laser (HEL) to protect soldiers. “HELs are moving from the laboratory to the field,” said Alex Rose-Parfitt, engineering director, Raytheon UK. The company will install a HEL on an MoD Wolfhound land vehicle, but said that the system can be installed on a variety of platforms and integrated with many modern air defense systems. Meanwhile, Milrem Robotics and MSI-Defence Systems Ltd jointly displayed an unmanned ground vehicle equipped with an EO sensor, and capable of carrying Thales LMM missiles or gun payloads up to 30mm, to counter UAVs.

Leonardo and Northrop Grumman announced an extension of their existing partnerships to the global VTOL UAS market. Although Leonardo has developed small rotary-wing UASs named Hero and Solo, it has not enjoyed large contracts such as those awarded to Northrop Grumman for the MQ-8C Fire Scout by the U.S. Navy. “There are many possibilities that our collaboration with Leonardo will deliver for customers worldwide,” said Nick Chaffey, Northrop Grumman’s Chief Executive, UK, Europe, Middle East.

A pioneering company building electric-powered UAVs has teamed with BAE Systems to offer a heavylift VTOL UAV for military, security and commercial use. The partnership between BAE and Malloy Aeronautics showed a full-scale model of the four-rotor machine carrying a Stingray torpedo. However, the companies said that the T-650 Heavy Lift Electric UAS had multiple defense and commercial applications, such as surveillance and monitoring for casualty evacuation and maritime search and rescue, and automated logistics and re-supply.

German sensor house Hensoldt said it would join forces with US defense company L3Harris Technologies to develop new capabilities for NATO’s Alliance Future Surveillance and Control (AFSC) program. Hensoldt said it would contribute active and passive sensors, sensor data fusion, and network management capabilities that were multi-domain and platform-independent. “Our team will explore open systems, multi-function solutions, and data-centric concepts to sustain the NATO alliance’s military advantage from 2035 and beyond“, said Dave Johnson, VP strategy, integrated mission systems for L3Harris.