By Michael Marrow
WASHINGTON: Despite increasing instability in the Middle East, multiple large American defense firms slated to attend the Dubai Airshow this month have no plans to scale back their attendance.
The show, held every other year at Al Maktoum International Airport near the southern edge of Dubai in the United Arab Emirates, is one of the largest in the world. The event often takes a heavy commercial focus similar to other air shows, though defense companies also make their presence known to meet with customers and court new orders.
But the shocking Oct. 7 surprise attack by Hamas in Israel, as well as Jerusalem’s military response that has sparked outrage across the Middle East, has created a security situation in the region that would seemingly put attendance at this year’s airshow at risk. The show is scheduled to run Nov. 13-17.
Protestors have flooded the streets of cities like Beirut in Lebanon, and proxy groups backed by Iran have attacked US and allied forces throughout the region. As a result, the Biden administration has drawn up contingency plans for evacuating Americans from the Middle East. Americans in Israel and Lebanon, home to the anti-Israel armed group Hezbollah, are of “particular concern,” the Washington Post reported, and the State Department has authorized the departure of family members and non-essential personnel from Israel and Lebanon, while ordering the same for Iraq.
There are also some relatively encouraging signs that the conflict will not spread further. In a highly anticipated address today, Hezbollah security chief Hassan Nasrallah declined to call for his fighters to launch a wider war, indicating instead that the armed group will continue carrying out smaller skirmishes along the Israeli-Lebanese border.
But even before Nasrallah’s speech, several large American defense firms scheduled to attend the Dubai Airshow — located just across the Persian Gulf from Iran — told Breaking Defense that their plans have not changed. (While not a comprehensive roundup of the over 100 American firms announced as attending the show, the larger defense companies tend to set the agenda for smaller firms participation.)
To be sure, the situation is still fluid, and plans could always change at last minute given new developments. However, with 10 days to go before the Nov. 13 start of the event, this year’s show is set to be its largest on record — and it seems American industry will be well represented.
“We’re monitoring current events like all our industry peers and have not scaled back our planned attendance,” L3Harris told Breaking Defense in a statement.
Boeing, which typically has a large presence at air shows and duels with Airbus over commercial orders, similarly stated, “We have not made any changes in our plans for the Dubai Airshow.”
Lockheed Martin, the world’s largest defense contractor, did not directly address whether it had scaled back planned attendance when asked by Breaking Defense: “Lockheed Martin does business in more than 70 nations worldwide, and we regularly engage at domestic and international trade shows. Employee safety is our top priority, and we have standard procedures in place to actively monitor and address potential security threats for employees conducting business around the world,” the company said in a statement.
Defense giant RTX, as well as GE Aerospace and Airbus did not respond to a request for comment by press time. Northrop Grumman traditionally eschews international trade shows and had not announced plans to appear at Dubai.
Smaller companies still plan to attend as well. Defense tech firm Anduril is still proceeding as planned, according to a spokesperson, while a General Atomics spokesperson said the company will still be in force at the show.
“General Atomics Aeronautical has been a longtime partner to the UAE, and we value the opportunity to participate in Dubai Air Show. Our plans have been set for months and have not changed. We hope visitors will come see us at our booth and hear more about our aircraft and capabilities,” General Atomics spokesman C. Mark Brinkley said in a statement.
Industry groups as well are sticking to their plans, even though there may be some hesitation.
“It feels a little like the uncertainty around COVID, but no companies are pulling out,” Eric Fanning, President and Chief Executive Officer of the Aerospace Industries Association, told Breaking Defense late last month. “AIA is always in constant contact with US security agencies and embassies, and we feel comfortable going.”
In addition to a strong Western presence, it is expected that numerous Chinese firms will also be in attendance, as will the Russian state-run space firm Roscosmos, according to a list of registered exhibitors. Countless representatives and firms from other countries will also be in attendance.
The inclusion of a Russian firm as part of the main show is a change from the last major trade show in the UAE, February’s IDEX meeting, when the Russians were unofficial participants, with a pavilion that was technically outside the exhibition grounds — and a stone’s throw away from a US Army tent.