Monday, November 9, 2009

Dubai Set for Biggest Air Show Yet

Defense News


Dubai Set for Biggest Air Show Yet

Possible Rafale Sale, F-22 Debut, Bid for Trainer Radar Among Highlights

Adnan Abdel-Razzak in Dubai, Pierre Tran in Paris and Wendell Minnick in Taipei contributed to this report.


Despite a drop in international arms sales, the upcoming biennial Dubai Air Show, running Nov. 15-19 in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), is expected to outperform the 2007 show by more than 10 percent.

Since 1989, the show has grown from 200 exhibitors and 25 aircraft to 900 ex­hibitors and more than 100 aircraft this year. The exhibition will showcase 65 chalets and country pavilions from Austria, Belgium, Canada, France, Germany, Jordan, the Netherlands, Russia, Sweden, Ukraine, the United Kingdom and the United States. A total of 50,000 visitors, including French Defense Minister HervĂ© Morin, are expected to attend the show.

British-based Fairs & Exhibitions (F&E), in cooperation with Dubai’s government and the UAE Union Defense Forces, organizes the show. Physically, the show has grown as well. To cope with more exhibitors, the floor space has been increased by more than 7,000 square meters with the addition of a new hall and more double-story chalets.

The 2007 show had a record order book of $155.5 billion, and show officials expect to break that record.

The United Arab Emirates has steadily increased defense spending over the last few years in light of regional concerns and the country’s proximity to Iran, which is allegedly developing nuclear weapons and advanced missile capabilities, though it claims its nuclear program is civil in nature.

Quoting analysts at Frost & Sullivan, defense spending in the Middle East is predicted to surpass $100 billion by 2014, accounting for 11 percent of international arms orders, said a show press release.

“The UAE spent some $4 billion last year on defense, while Saudi Arabia looks set to allocate at least $36 billion annually over the next five years,” Frost & Sullivan said. “Bahrain and Jordan have applied to buy advanced air-to-air missiles in deals [from the United States] estimated at some $200 million.”

According to the Stockholm International Research Institute, the United Arab Emirates became the biggest defense importer in the Middle East last year, receiving some 34 percent of the arms sent there. This is likely to be a big factor in this year’s show.

For France, the UAE’s announced intention to buy some 60 Rafale combat aircraft carries the hopes of industry and the Paris government of defense exports to the gulf region. The twin-engine strike fighter is built by Dassault Aviation.

The UAE’s requirements for the Rafale are expected to include new infrared search-and-track sensors, warfare gear, an active electronically scanned array radar and a 9-ton thrust Snecma M88 engine, uprated from the plane’s current 7.5-ton-thrust engine. Additional fuel capacity is viewed as essential for extended operations across the Persian Gulf to fend off a putative threat from Iran.

The United Arab Emirates also has the Black Shaheen, the export variant of the Storm Shadow/ Scalp cruise missile.

In addition, Kuwait has recently expressed interest in buying the Rafale.

In other product categories: 

■ In trainer aircraft, Thales is understood to be bidding to supply the radar for the Aermacchi M346 light combat and trainer jet for the United Arab Emirates. 

■ Aerial refueling is a topic of in­terest in the region.

The United Arab Emirates has ordered three Airbus A330 multirole tanker and transport aircraft and is potentially interested in adding to the buy, Airbus Military executives have said.

“The air tankers have always been a priority,” a gulf defense official said. “They have seen them in action.” Saudi Arabia has bought six A330 MRTTs to support its fighter fleet. 

■ For Thales, maritime patrol aircraft are a point of interest in the region. Saudi Arabia has asked the French electronic systems company to supply maritime patrol equipment for a CASA C-295 transport aircraft. And Thales won a deal to upgrade two UAE Air Force Bombardier Dash 8-300 aircraft with a maritime patrol system. 

Aircraft on Display 

Alison Weller, director of F&E Aerospace, said the positive signs and large turnout predicted for the air show are a good “barometer” of both the aerospace and defense industry in the Middle East. The Dubai Air Show also will showcase a variety of commercial and military aircraft. The U.S. Air Force will display the F-22 Raptor stealth fighter for its first acknowledged visit to the Middle East. The Raptor is expected to be the star of this year’s show. The 2007 show served as the last international event to display the U.S. Air Force’s F-117A Nighthawk stealth fighter before its retirement.

“We are absolutely delighted that the F-22 Raptor will debut at this year’s Dubai Air Show,” Weller said.

Other U.S. Air Force aircraft at the show will include the C-17 Globemaster III transport plane, the WC-130J weather reconnaissance plane, the E-8C Joint Stars ground surveillance plane, the F-15E Strike Eagle fighter and the B-1B Lancer bomber.

Other exhibits will include the Chinese-built Hongdu L-15 fighter trainer, the Pakistan-built PAC K-8 fighter trainer and Italian-based Finmeccanica’s C-27J Spartan transport plane.

Aerial acrobatic teams at the show will include the Italian Air Force’s Frecce Tricolori (Tricolor Arrows) flying Aermacchi MB-339 fighter trainers, and the Patrouille de France performing with Alpha Jet trainers.

In the exhibition halls, the EADS stand will showcase an assortment of exhibits, including a full-scale mockup of an Airbus A350 XWB jumbo airliner cabin and Eurocopter’s 16-seat civilian helicopter, the EC175.

The show will be preceded by the Dubai International Air Chiefs Conference on Nov. 14 at the Knowledge Village Conference Hall. Sponsored by UAE-based INEGMA, nine air chief commanders will address the conference, including Maj. Gen. Mohammed Bin Swaidan Saeed Al Gamzi, commander of the UAE Air Force and Air Defense; Gen. Norton Schwartz, chief of staff of the U.S. Air Force; Gen. Jean-Paul Palomeros, France’s Air Force chief of staff; and Air Chief Marshal Sir Stephen Dalton, commander of Britain’s Royal Air Force. ■