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Lights and shades at FEINDEF 21, Spain's defence industry trade show

FEINDEF

The 2021 International Defence and Security Exhibition of Spain, FEINDEF, has just closed its doors in Madrid. It will reopen from 17 to 19 May 2023, when it is scheduled for its third biennial edition, as is customary for this type of event.

FEINDEF 2021 has closed with a positive balance, in which the lights have been superior, much superior, to the shadows, which in some way have tarnished the development of the event. But these are incidents that can be considered minor anomalies, which are more detrimental to the protagonists than to the development of the event itself. The reality is that, morning and afternoon, the two halls of the exhibition centre were packed with visitors and the very extensive programme of conferences and forums was varied and of great interest, to the point of being overwhelming.

The three days of FEINDEF, from 3 to 5 November, were "a real success, some even described it as a super success". "That is what the companies, both large and small, tell me", said Gerardo Sánchez Revenga, president of AESMIDE, the Association of Contracting Companies with Public Administrations, one of the three organisations responsible for bringing the Fair to a successful conclusion.  

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PHOTO/Feindef - For Gerardo Sánchez Revenga, president of AESMIDE, one of the directors involved in the organisation of FEINDEF, it has been a real success, some even describe it as a super success. That is what the large and small companies tell him 

The balance expressed at the closing ceremony by the Director General of Armaments and Material of the Ministry of Defence, Admiral Santiago Ramón González Gómez, is also positive. He acknowledged that FEINDEF has gained "notable momentum" and that it is a "good springboard" for the Spanish defence industry and the Armed Forces. It has been possible to see Spanish high technology in abundance: cutting-edge surveillance systems, intelligent clothing, augmented reality glasses, guided weapons systems, simulators for driving vehicles, ships and aircraft, anti-drone systems, high-precision optronics...

The figures in the final communiqué released by the show's organisers state that the fair was attended by "300 exhibitors and 75 international delegations", almost twice as many as two years ago. And that the number of unique visitors was "more than 12,000", which represents "the consolidation at international level" of FEINDEF. These figures have led some to describe the Spanish exhibition as "one of the leading defence fairs in Europe". Such a statement is to ignore reality. 

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PHOTO/Feindef - The Minister of Defence, Margarita Robles, did not attend either the inauguration ceremony or the subsequent family photo. In the foreground, in the centre, on the floor, you can see the gap left by her absence 
Many large Defence Fairs in Europe 

First of all, it should be borne in mind that two editions do not generate conclusive statistics. And that the FEINDEF exhibition brings together mainly large exhibitors and SMEs, the vast majority of which are based in Spain, from the land military, naval, aerospace and security sectors.

But it should not be forgotten that the Spanish tradeshow is far behind, in terms of participating companies, stands and professional visitors, France, for example, which for many decades has been organising three fairs: one dedicated exclusively to the military naval industry (Euronaval), another to the defence industry in its air-land component (Eurosatory) and a third - the most important of all - focused on the aerospace sector (Le Bourget show) in all its aspects. 

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PHOTO/JPons - There was plenty of Spanish high-tech on display: cutting-edge surveillance systems, intelligent clothing, augmented reality glasses, guided weapons systems, simulators for driving vehicles, ships and aircraft, anti-drone systems, high-precision optronics...

And that the United Kingdom organises the impressive DSEI land and naval show in London and the aerospace show at Farnborough Airport; that Germany has the ILA aerospace show held in Berlin. These countries have a much larger defence sector than Spain, and their events are far ahead of FEINDEF, which is a newcomer to a world market saturated with defence-related trade fairs. Nevertheless, the Spanish show is moving forward step by step, that is the reality, and cannot be considered "one of the most important defence and security shows held in Europe", as has been claimed.

There is a relevant regrettable fact that has not yet been explained. The Minister of Defence, Margarita Robles, did not attend the opening ceremony, as scheduled and as the official delegations of friendly or allied countries invited to the event had been informed. The consulted officials consider this to be "unjustifiable". It is possible. But a few minutes later he was visiting some of the stands in the exhibition pavilions.

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PHOTO/JPons - The 300 square metre stand dedicated to Next Generation Weapons System or NGWS/FCAS resembled a furniture exhibition. Dozens of empty tables and chairs with virtually no information about the project

The FEINDEF organisation itself accuses itself of the fact that one day there were long queues to access the two exhibition halls. This is normal, it happens at practically all fairs of this kind, and even more so with anti-COVID-19 security and prevention measures. The week before, the World ATM Congress, the biggest annual event dedicated to international air traffic, was held on the same exhibition site. I was there and the crowds of professionals in the early hours of the morning to access the only exhibition hall were enormous. 

The big empty stand of the FCAS  

A mistake. The United States, the world champion of the defence industry, is referred to as the "guest country". In such cases, the guest is a national pavilion. Here too, but with only two companies: Raytheon - world number one in missiles and radar - and BAE Systems. Outside the official US pavilion was Lockheed Martin Corporation - interested in S-80 submarines and F-110 frigates - and General Atomics, the manufacturer of the Spanish Air Force's MQ-9 Predator B tactical drones. Granting Portugal, for example, the status of guest country would have been the most reasonable thing to do. This was not the case and, in the end, Portuguese industry was virtually absent

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PHOTO/JPons -  The week before FEINDEF, the World ATM Congress was held at the same exhibition site. The crowds of professionals trying to get into the exhibition pavilion early in the morning were enormous

In the speeches and numerous FEINDEF forums and conferences, the strategic nature of the defence industrial sector is reiterated time and again. Unlike other countries, only the Minister of Defence and the Minister of Industry, Reyes Maroto, were present. The Fair was also about security, but the Minister of the Interior, Fernando Grande-Marlaska, did not appear, nor did the Minister of Science and Innovation. Neither did the Minister of Finance, María Jesús Montero, nor the Minister of Transport, Raquel Sánchez, nor the Minister of the Presidency, Félix Bolaños. Pepe Álvarez, secretary general of the UGT trade union, and Antonio Garamendi, president of the CEOE employers' association, did attend. And half a dozen deputies and senators from the Defence Committees of the Congress and Senate.

In my opinion, the main negative note was the 300 square metre stand dedicated to the Next Generation Weapons System or NGWS/FCAS, whose main instrument is the European fighter aircraft of the 2040s. It was an amorphous enclosure, looking more like a furniture exhibition than an FCAS exhibition. Dozens of empty designer tables and chairs, surrounded by a fence, without even a brochure or video screens explaining the project. It seems that Airbus GmbH and Dassault Aviation reserve the right to present the project in all its splendour and with scale models at the ILA show in Berlin in June 2022 or at the Le Bourget show in Paris in June 2023.    

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PHOTO/JPons -  Giving the US, the world champion of the defence industry, the title of guest country was a mistake. It would have been more reasonable to twin with Portugal

The main credit for the excellent results of FEINDEF 2021 must go to the team of Marine Colonel Ramón Pérez Alonso, managing director of the FEINDEF 2021 Foundation, an entity formed by the aforementioned AESMIDE, by TEDAE - the Spanish Association of Defence, Security, Aeronautics and Space Technology Companies - and by the Ministry of Defence.

The main responsibility for all the planning and logistics associated with the organisation and execution of the show falls on the aforementioned colonel. He has had the support of the Directorate General of Armaments and Material, the General Secretariat of Defence Policy and the president of the FEINDEF Foundation, the former Minister of Defence Julián García Vargas. For the latter, the 2021 edition has been "excellent", as "the number of exhibitors, delegations and visitors has grown and the companies have got to know each other, which is what a fair is all about".