Suhail Al Mazroui, Mohammad Bin Ahmad Al Bawardi, UAE Minister of State for Defence Affairs, and other officials at the International Defence Conference in Abu Dhabi Image Credit: Supplied

Abu Dhabi: International Defence Exhibition (Idex) 2019 is set to kick off in Abu Dhabi on Sunday amid growing spending by Gulf countries in the defence sector to meet security challenges. Hundreds of defence companies will be taking part in the five-day event that will be held at Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre.

The number of exhibitors for Idex as well as for Naval Defence (Navdex) is expected to increase by 6 per cent to 1,310 compared to 1,235 companies that took part in the previous edition in 2017, organisers said last week.

International companies will account for 85 per cent of the total number of participating companies, while the number of local firms will reach 170, representing 15 per cent of the exhibitors.

Preparation in progress for the International Defence Exhibition (Idex) 2019 at the Abu Dhabi National Exhibition centre yesterday. Hundreds of defence companies will be taking part in the five-day event that kicks off Image Credit: Ahmed KUtty/Gulf News

Organisers are expecting total deals to equal or surpass the previous edition of Idex. In 2017, the value of the deals announced was Dh19.7 billion.

UAE companies will be present in large numbers with 170 defence firms taking part in the event followed by firms from the United States, Germany, France, Italy and Saudi Arabia.

The event takes place as defence spending goes up in the region. A report released by Jane’s by IHS Markit forecasts defence spending in the Gulf region to hit $103 billion in 2019 and continue upwards to $110 billion in 2023, up from $82 billion in 2013.

“Falling energy revenues between 2014 and 2016 led to some major procurement projects being delayed as government’s reined in budget deficits,” said Charles Forrester, senior defence industry analyst at Jane’s by IHS Markit. “However, defence was generally protected from the worst of the spending cuts due to regional security concerns and budgets are now growing again.”

Major deals in the region have included Saudi Arabia’s decision to procure the Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) for its navy and new combat aircraft including Eurofighter Typhoon, as well as Kuwait’s decision to acquire Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornets and Eurofighter Typhoons, according to the report.

Within the defence sector, the establishment of Saudi Arabia Military Industries (SAMI) in 2017 and consolidation of the UAE’s defence industrial base through the creation of Emirates Defence Industries Company (EDIC) in 2014 have helped consolidate and drive forward industrial defence capabilities.

“As we approach the end of the decade, a number of governments in the Gulf region are in the process of updating their economic plans and strategies. As part of this, they are considering how new, disruptive technologies can be leveraged,” Forrester said.

“As civil-sector demand for technologies such as artificial intelligence and cyber security grows, the acquisition of defence equipment can help to deliver further investments and capabilities in these areas as offset is leveraged.”

Meanwhile, the Tawazun Economic Council on Wednesday announced the launch of its Defence and Security Development Fund with capital of Dh2.5 billion ($680 million). A statement from Tawazun, the government agency responsible for economic diversification efforts, said the fund will “unveil key financing and investment programmes” at IDEX 2019,

The victor in future wars will not be the one who has the largest and strongest conventional forces, but the one who possesses smart weapons, sophisticated defensive and offensive capabilities, as well as competencies to execute electronic warfare, Mohammad bin Ahmad Al Bawardi, UAE Minister of State for Defence Affairs said during the International Defence Conference in Abu Dhabi on Saturday.

He also highlighted the importance of unifying international efforts at a time when the world is facing increasing security complexities and various defence challenges on the regional and global level.