Famous for its caviar, vodka and petrol, Azerbaijan hopes to add defence to the list. That, in any case is what Baku was aiming for with the second ADEX defence exhibition organised from 26 to 29 September and attended by about 100 exhibitors and a handful of journalists, including part of the FOB team.
Because of the simmering dispute with Armenia over the enclave of Upper Karabakh and its outdated Soviet military equipment, the Azeri authorities have been making huge investments into the development and procurement of modern military equipment for their armed forces. Over the past decade Azerbaijan has used part of its spectacular energy revenues to increase defence spending tenfold to reach € 1.3bn in 2016.
The ADEX show thus met a double objective, that is, drawing the industries that might help modernise the Azeri army’s equipment and promoting the relatively young but ambitious local industry. The latter’s expansion is due principally to the creation in 2005 of the Ministry of Defence Industry of Azerbaijan Republic (MODIAR), in charge of supervising the development, production and maintenance of local armaments. Far from limiting itself to the production under licence of munitions, small weapons and drones, MODIAR means to develop more complex and 100% Azeri systems. MODIAR thus used the ADEX show to unveil the “Tufan” troop transport vehicle development programme.
It was difficult to ignore the overwhelming presence of the Turks who made up almost a third of the exhibitors. Considered as a “twin nation” by many Azeris, Turkey has signed over 100 military agreements with Baku since 2009, notably in the field of industrial cooperation. Relations between the two industries are so good that the Turkish under-secretariat for defence industries is now the principal sponsor of the ADEX exhibition; this is unheard of for defence shows, traditionally backed by their respective governments. Imagine Eurosatory whose principal institutional sponsor was no longer the French Defence Ministry but – let’s be a bit mad – the Belgian General Directorate for Defence Procurement!
It was also impossible as one wandered the alleyways of the show to ignore the very “Eastern” imprint of the show, attended by important delegations from China, Russia, Pakistan and Bielorus, but very few Westerners and absolutely no US or British companies. The West is still regarded with enough suspicion that some surprising situations cropped up. I happened to mention to a Bielorus exhibitor that I hold Belgian nationality: that immediately put an end to any hopes of an interview under the pretext that Belgium is closely linked to NATO. It was also impossible for me to approach the Azeri president who, to visit ADEX, entirely blocked one of the country’s principal motorways, had an army of snipers deployed on the roof of the exhibition hall and, above all, asked his security service to “politely” expel any foreign journalists.
Happily, an island of French companies emerged from this ocean of somewhat anachronistic mistrust. Apart from the usual giants such as DCNS, Thales and MBDA, a few smaller companies took the risk of coming to take the pulse of the Azeri market: Lacroix, the pyrotechnical specialist, Proengin the manufacturer of NRBC (nuclear, radiological, biological and chemical) detection systems, Vectronix, the Swiss subsidiary of the Safran group specialised in optical systems and the ECA Group, which had come to show its range of remotely piloted air systems. Despite a restrained presence, the “Made in France” seems to have been a hit, according to the French exhibitors who were seemed very pleased with the first contacts they had made.
Even if ADEX is a show with a limited influence, this second edition had its lot of “exotic” novelties, three of which we’ll write about tomorrow.