The first major air show of 2022 has just closed its doors in the small but booming city-state of Singapore, which, along with New York, London, Hong Kong and Tokyo, is one of the five most important financial centres in the world.
Despite the severe restrictions on movement in Asia to limit the spread of COVID-19, the organisers of the eighth Singapore Air Show have managed to bring together the leading international aerospace and defence companies from 15 to 18 February to showcase their product ranges for both the civil and military markets.
Led by the two global industrial giants, the European corporation Airbus and the American Boeing, and the flag carrier, Singapore Airlines, the biennial show brought together around 800 exhibiting companies, a lower number than the previous edition in 2020, which was attended by 931 exhibitors, according to official figures.
The four-day event attracted 13,000 executives and managers from the main airlines, senior officials from public and defence administrations and professional visitors from all over the world, which is a significant decrease compared to 2020, which was attended by 30,000 people, according to the organisation's own figures.
The presence of companies from Australia, Belgium, Belgium, France, Germany, Israel, Malaysia, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and the United States at one of the ten most important aeronautical shows in the world was notable. These countries have highlighted their attendance by grouping most of their respective companies in national pavilions, which gives an idea of the importance they attach to the Singapore show.
Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen, in office since May 2011, and more recently Transport and Trade Minister S. Iswaran have been able to establish very strict procurement procedures for aeronautical and military equipment. Airbus and, to a lesser extent, Boeing's aircraft sales and two major themes dominated the discussion forums in Singapore.
In particular, the civil aviation sector rebounded as a result of the start of the COVID-19 pandemic control. A second topic of interest was the air taxis that will soon link the Singapore islands. And attempts to develop environmentally sustainable fuels that can reduce the carbon emissions generated by aviation. Airbus has exhibited mock-ups of its hydrogen-powered ZEROe concept aircraft, which represents the company's ambition to introduce the first zero-emission commercial aircraft by 2035.
The Singapore Air Show is a major international showcase for both aerospace and defence equipment. The country is aware that it must preserve its wealth with deterrent military potential, so its large Singapore Armed Forces are packed with weapons systems from many different countries, preferably sourced from the United States, its main ally.
Its large air-land and naval arsenal also has important equipment from the aforementioned European countries, from Israel -electronic equipment and drones- and in some cases even from China. The Spanish company that has achieved the greatest success in China is Uro. Its 4x4 VAMTAC tactical vehicles have replaced a large contingent of German (Mercedes MB290) and American (HMMWV Humvee) light troop transports, and are already in service with its army.
However, not a single Spanish company has exhibited at the Singapore show in its 2022 edition, despite the fact that there are "very trusting" relations between the Ministries of Defence of both countries, according to industry sources. The 2020 edition was visited by a delegation from the Ministry of Defence headed by the then Director General of Armaments and Material, Admiral Santiago González Gómez, but no specific practical agreement was reached.
This is not surprising because, although Spain and Singapore maintain diplomatic relations, neither country has an embassy based in Madrid or Singapore. The last visit by a Spanish Foreign Minister was that of José Manuel García-Margallo, which took place in November 2013.
The Singapore Air Show is the most important in Southeast Asia, and not by chance. The Republic is the smallest country in the region. It covers an area of 730 square kilometres, a hundred or so more than Madrid, whose surface area is 604 square kilometres. But it has a population of 5.5 million, 66% more than that of the Spanish capital.
Singapore is the nerve centre of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), which also includes Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam. An enclave made up of the island of the same name and 62 others, it is located at the southern tip of the Malaysian peninsula and north of Indonesia's Riau Islands.
Its privileged geographical location and the commitment of its authorities have made it a hub for finance and air routes linking Europe and the Middle East with the countries of the Indo-Pacific. If we add to this the fact that it has major port infrastructures and is an almost obligatory passage for the maritime transport of goods and energy resources flowing from the Indian Ocean to the seas of China, Japan and Korea, the country's geostrategic importance becomes clear.
Despite its small size and limited human potential, the country's geostrategic position and the wealth emanating from its huge financial sector mean that its main authorities, headed by President Halimah Jacob - in office since September 2017 - and its Prime Minister since August 2004, General Lee Hsien Loong, maintain an Armed Forces that are the envy of all the countries in the region.