A general view of the IDEX 2019
The International Defence Conference 2021, started in Abu Dhabi on Saturday February 20. The conference is held prior to the launch of the International Defence Exhibition and the Naval Defence Exhibition (IDEX and NAVDEX) 2021. Image Credit: Abdul Rahman/Gulf News

Abu Dhabi: The International Defence Conference 2021, started in Abu Dhabi on Saturday February 20.

The conference was held for the first time in a hybrid format, with attendees being welcomed virtually and in-person. The conference, held at the ADNOC Business Center, brought together over 24 experts and specialists in the defence sector, with over 2,400 delegates from 80 nations joining the conference.

Held under the theme of ‘The Prosperity and Development of Artificial Intelligence and Advanced Technology and the Protection in the Era of the 4IR’, the conference is organised by the Abu Dhabi National Exhibitions Company (ADNEC) and the Tawazun Economic Council (Tawazun), in cooperation with the Ministry of Defense and the General Command of the UAE Armed Forces.

The conference is held prior to the launch of the International Defence Exhibition and the Naval Defence Exhibition (IDEX and NAVDEX) 2021, which will be held from 21 to 25 February at the Abu Dhabi National Exhibitions Centre.

New defence technologies

Mohammed bin Ahmed Al Bowardi, Minister of State for Defence Affairs in the UAE, inaugurated the conference. He highlighted how the UAE plays a critical role in advancing global defence industries. Subsequently, four main sessions were held, with the participation of a group of Emirati and international figures specialised in topics including defence affairs, advanced technology, and the fourth industrial revolution.

“Today, we hold an excellent opportunity to discuss how to protect the development of artificial intelligence and cutting-edge technology. Furthermore, we can confer on how the pandemic has impacted supply chains for global private sector companies, including industries such as healthcare, transportation, and of course, defence. The pandemic has forced us to reconsider supply chains, ensuring they are more resilient to face future challenges,” said Mohammed bin Ahmed Al Bowardi, Minister of State for Defence Affairs.

“The rapid influx of technology is creating greater complexity in the defence sector. As such, research and development in the security sector is increasingly critical to building more secure defence infrastructure. Of greatest concern is the need for cooperation between researchers working in the public sector, the private sector, and academia.”

The first session, held under the title ‘Exploring innovative opportunities in supply-chain ecosystem management beyond the COVID-19 Pandemic’, was joined by Suhail Bin Mohammed Faraj Faris Al Mazrouei; Helmut Rauch, CEO & President of Diehl Defence; and Tim Cahill, Senior Vice President at Lockheed Martin International. This session was moderated by Badr Al Olama, Head of Mubadala Aerospace , Mubadala Investment Company.

“Over the past year, we have worked to complete the drafting of the new maritime bill, and now we are finalising its approval. In addition, we have issued five ministerial decisions to regulate the UAE’s maritime sector. We consistently seek to ensure that legislation maintains the pace as ongoing developments in the maritime industry,” said Suhail bin Mohammed Faraj Faris Al Mazrouei, Minister of Energy and Industry.

Need for collaboration

Ahmad bin Abdulaziz Al-Ohali, Governor of the General Authority for Military Industries said collaborative investments in technological research and development is fundamental to creating a strategic advantage in the modern combat arena. In line with the targets of Saudi Vision 2030, the government began a defence localisation programme prior to the pandemic, targeting localising over 50 per cent of Saudi’s military expenditure and increasing our R&D budget from 2 per cent to 4 per cent.

“Competition is healthy for efficiency and creativity. However, in the defence sector, cooperation is not optional; it is necessary. It complements innovations, supply chain management, and employment schemes. Some of the most life altering technological innovations, such as Global Positioning Satellites, the internet, medical robotics, unmanned vehicles, and autonomous instruments were originally developed in the defence sector,” said Al-Ohali.

Role of artificial intelligence

The second session, held under the title ‘Protecting AI and other technologies of the fourth industrial revolution technologies in the age of collaboration and diffusion’, was joined by Omar Bin Sultan Al Olama; Micael Johansson, Chief Executive Officer at Saab Group; Heidi Grant, Director of the Defence Security Cooperation Agency in the United States of America, and Eric Papin, Executive VP Technical and Innovation Officer, Naval Group. This session is moderated by Tate Nurkin, CEO and President of the OTH Intelligence Group and Fellow at the Atlantic Council.

Omar Sultan Al Olama, Minister of State for Artificial Intelligence, Digital Economy and Remote Work Applications, reaffirmed UAE’s position towards designing the future, by planning proactively through creating innovative initiatives enabling it to coop with global changes. “Artificial intelligence is the main aspect in reshaping the world; we are currently witnessing an increasing infusion of systems that are productive and critical to our economies,” said Al Olama

The minister reiterated the importance of building capabilities and investing in human capital in the deployment of artificial intelligence. “There are a range of challenges in adopting AI, which is why countries need to prepare future generations that are able to develop and maintain those systems and ensure effective deployment of artificial intelligence across the nation.”

Research & development

The third session focuses on ‘Strengthening the defence industries research and development (R&D) in an increasingly dynamic global context’.

Participants on this session included: Faisal Al Bannai, CEO and Managing Director of EDGE; Tareq Abdulraheem Al Hosani, CEO of the Tawazun Economic Council; Dr. Uzi Rubin, Senior Researcher at the Jerusalem Institute of Strategy and Security; Kim Yoon Seok, Deputy Minister Office of Military Force and Resource Management in South Korea; and Lieutenant General (rtd) Theodoros LAGIOS HAF, General Director of General Directorate for Defence Investments and Armaments (GDDIA). This session was moderated by Dr. Noah Raford, Chief of Global Affairs and Futurist-in-Chief, Dubai Future Foundation.