IDEX 97, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates

An AFM report

IDEX IS NOW a well-established and respected international defence exhibition that grows in size and stature with every biennial show. Although it features land, sea and air defence products, interest at the third IDEX, held between March 16-20, centred on two of the most important air defence contracts to be fought for in the last years of the 20th century, both of which will be from the host country, the UAE.

The first is UAE’s $5 billion advanced fighter contract which Lockheed Martin was quietly confident of winning with its F-16 on the eve of the show. However, following a number of ‘fine print’ discussions, the UAE announced that not only was Dassault’s Rafale back in contention, but to everyone’s surprise, so was the Eurofighter 2000.

However, before IDEX had closed its doors, there was another twist to the UAE fighter contract saga when the United Arab Emirates armed forces announced a freeze on Italian bids and contracts following problems and late deliveries of arms bought over the past five years. Although Italy is a Eurofighter partner and prime contractor, UAE officials stressed that the ban on Italian military products should not prevent the evaluation of Eurofighter. However, Germany’s parliament did not help the Eurofighter cause by announcing on the second day of IDEX another delay on its procurement and its interest in the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF).

The other UAE air force purchase in the offing is for a $200 million contract for a maritime patrol aircraft (MPA). Contenders include the Lockheed P-3 Orion, the Dassault Atlantique 2 and the CASA CN-235MPA. Lockheed hopes to include both the F-16 and P-3 as a package, as does Dassault with the Rafale and Atlantique. In an attempt to win the order for its CN-235MPA, and promote Eurofighter, CASA is opening a manufacturing plant in Abu Dhabi.

Other deals that were under discussion with Middle East countries included BAe’s offer to replace Omani Jaguars with the JAS 39 Gripen, more upgraded Hawks for the UAE, and Lockheed C-130Js for Egypt and Saudi Arabia.

Helicopters were to the fore at IDEX with two Ka-50 Black Sharks taking part, one in the static and the other live-firing rockets and cannon at the nearby Maqatra range. Kamov was also touting the Ka-31 AEW helicopter and the two-seat Ka-52 Alligator as a viable, and available, alternative to the Boeing-Sikorsky Comanche.

The Kazan Helicopter Plant showed details of the ANSAT, a light multi-role (SAR, medevac, patrol) helicopter powered by Pratt & Whitney PK206C turbines. Italy was also offering a helicopter in the same class, a hot and high military version of the Agusta A 109K, which is already in service with the Dubai Police.

India offered the UAE its multi-role Advanced Light Helicopter (ALH) and on the first day of IDEX the Indian Minister of State for Defence announced the go-ahead of the Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) project which will benefit from Sukhoi input as part of the Su-30 deal.

In the competitive battlefield helicopter market place, Denel said that it was making slow but steady progress with its Rooivalk. Having recently flown the first pre-production helicopter, 12 of which have been ordered by the South African Air Force, Denel is hopeful of selling the Rooivalk to the Royal Malaysian Air Force.

Croatia and Ukraine were exhibiting at IDEX for the first time with the former showing an aerial target towed behind a MiG-21, plus various air-launched rockets which have their roots in the former Yugoslav arms industry. The Ukraine State aerospace repair and upgrade factory was advertising its services, while the Antonov Aeronautical Scientific and Technical Complex was announcing the imminent first flight of the second An-70, which it claimed would be ready for service in 1998.

There was a plethora of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles on display ranging from South Africa’s battle-proven Denel Seeker, the Fox 2 and Crecerelle from France, the Spanish SIVA, Canada’s CL-327 ‘Peanut’, Brevel produced by the Franco German company STN into which BAe has recently invested, and the Czech Sojka which was seen outside its native country for the first time. Originally a co-development with Hungary, the Sojka III — which is entering service with the Czech Army — is a simple and cheap battlefield surveillance system being marketed by Omnipol.

Two competing ground-based air defence systems on display were Raytheon’s Patriot, used extensively during the Gulf War, and Russia’s S-300V known to NATO as the SA-12 Gladiator.

Two of the more obscure aviation-related products exhibited included an Australian-designed wing in ground effect (WIG) vehicle which could ‘skim’ at height of up to 50ft (15m), undertake long-range ocean patrols up to l,500nm (2,780km) at speed of between 40 and 120kts (75-225km/h). The composite WIG would be powered by two Perkins diesel marine engines plus a waterjet unit. And the other company was Executive Outcomes, the South African-based mercenary organisation which was offering military training programmes as well as its ‘peacekeeping’ services (see AFM April p3 and 15). Several foreign warships were on display at Abu Dhabi’s Port Zayed as part of the exhibition. These included the carrier HMS Illustrious which has been taking part in Exercise Ocean Wave (see page 15) and had its complement of Sea Harriers and Sea Kings along with RAF Harrier GR.7s on the flight deck. Another ship of interest was France’s stealthy frigate, the FNS La Fayette, which carried an Aeronavale Panther on its heli-deck. Italy sent a task group of three ships including the destroyer MMI Luigi Durand de la Penne with a pair of Agusta Bell AB 212ASWs aboard.

Altogether there was much to interest the aerospace community at IDEX ’97 and the next exhibition in two years time will be eagerly awaited by manufacturers and potential customers alike.

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