Maj. Gen. Roddy Porter, British Army Ret., DSEI’s spokesman, discusses key themes at the 20th anniversary gathering of DSEI, new features for 2019 and attendance expectations with Defense & Aerospace Report Editor Vago Muradian. Our coverage is sponsored by L3Harris and Leonardo DRS and in partnership with Clarion Events — DSEI’s organizer — and working with the UK Department of International Trade’s Defence & Security Organisation to bring our audience the best in British defense.
Vago Muradian: Welcome to the Defense and Aerospace Report. I’m Vago Muradian here at the Excel Center in London covering DSEI, one of the world’s truly great air, land, sea, space cyber and security shows.
Our coverage here is sponsored by L3Harris, Leonardo DRS. Our coverage is in partnership with Clarion Events, that puts on this event and so many other great conferences around the world, in Brazil, Japan, Bahrain and elsewhere. And we’re working with the UK Department of International Trade, Defence and Security Organization to bring you the very best of British defense.
We’re honored to have as our first interview, Retired British Army Major General Roddy Porter, who is the spokesman here at DSEI. Sir, it’s always an honor and pleasure, and thanks very much for having us back.
Major General (Ret) Porter: It’s my pleasure, Vago. Thank you very much. It’s great to be at DSEI once again. This is my second show as spokesman, but I was engaged with DSEI for many years as a procurer of military capability within the UK Ministry of Defence, so it’s very interesting to see it from this perspective as well.
Mr. Muradian: Exactly. Bookended very well. And you were in office at the time when UK was trying to rush a lot of equipment out to the field. Mark Goldsack as well, Brigadier, who’s the Defence and Security Organization Chief was also part of that process to work with scientists, academia and elsewhere to pump capability down. So I know there are a lot of people who are very thankful for your efforts and everybody on the MOD team.
Let’s talk a little bit about major themes. It’s a challenging time I think we can say for British politics. But still at a time when a lot of focus on increased spending, delivering capability. Defense has had a couple of bumps. What are going to be the major themes that we’re going to experience? You guys have a tremendous conference, so as most people watch this, that conference will be underway. The Joint Service Conference on the first day. And then four days of DSEI here. Talk us through some of the major themes and trends we’re going to see.
Maj. Gen. (Ret) Porter: Certainly. I think those conferences that you alluded to are really important. They’ve become increasingly significant as the Day Zero, if you like, of DSEI. And in the aerospace arena we have talked in the past about the air sector and the air capability. This year as an innovation, really, we’re focusing very much more on aerospace and looking quite closely at defense capabilities in space. C2. Defense of coalition assets in space, that kind of thing, and how the space sector plays out. Not only in how we manage space, how we use space, how we will defend, how we will fight as coalitions in space, but also looking at how space technology can be applied and spun out into the military environment, if you like. So I think that’s one of the significant areas.
I think in terms of theme, transformation is a big theme this year at DSEI. Looking specifically at artificial intelligence, looking at machine learning. How can we use that plethora of transformational capabilities that are out there, very many of which are in the civilian market? How can we spin those into our military capabilities?
One of the focuses we’ve got this year is on engineering skills, for example. There is a dearth of engineering skills UK wide and I suspect in the international arena. So how can we focus on learning, how can we focus on interesting people in science and the scientific applications in the military environment?
So that’s very, very important.
I think two other themes which are going to be important. One is the supply chain. In my experience the supply chain is becoming more and more important for DSEI. This year we’ve set up a supply chain exchange where the procurers and engineers within the defense sector can look at who do I want to really meet at DSEI? Who do I want to have a serious conversation with — SMEs and contractors — about developing supply chain capabilities? So that’s another important area.
And then I think I mentioned innovation. I think the defense innovation unit is going to be very busy this year with the defense and security accelerator and the innovation units of the front-line commands, focusing on how can we get from idea to impact? I think a lot of that will bring in technologies and ideas from outside of the defense sector and other capability areas where innovation has proven to be a force multiplier, both in terms of how we can build our teams, how can we develop equipment capability and put the whole piece together. That’s very much needed in defense. So that’s going to be an exciting area for us to look at this week as well.
Mr. Muradian: I was going to say that the mark of a professional soldier has always been to think about logistics and supply chain because amateurs talk tactics, professionals talk logistics, and I know that in the great power context there was a lot of focus on getting all of those logistical pieces, although you were talking about it from a supply chain, from the standpoint of the companies here. Every year the show always tries to outdo itself, have new features, make things a little bit smoother. Obviously the big entry area was new last time in order to try to streamline the badging process. Walk us through from the user experience standpoint, some of the features you guys are developing to try to make that experience better. Because one of the key things about this show is everybody is under one roof, so in the course of four or five days you’re going to actually have a lot of richness. That’s one of the reasons why I think it’s one of the greatest shows in the world. Talk to us about how you guys are — the innovations that exhibiters and attendees are going to see this year that’s going to be improving the quality of life and the impact they get out of the show.
Maj. Gen. (Ret) Porter: I think first of all we’ve tried to marshal the sectors better so the joint sector under whose roof we have medical and C2 and a range of capabilities. So specifying by sector how people can get at capability. I think that’s really important.
One of the exciting things is that DSEI continues to expand year after year. And Clarion, who are responsible for running this, have beaten their [heart] and their stretched targets in terms of if you like selling square meterage of floor space to defense contractors, we’ve got 1700 contractors this year which is great. And that is bringing in a whole range of new capabilities from across the international defense community. We’ve got 44 national pavilions this year. That’s four more than last year. And there’s an excitement over the way that nations genuinely want to display what capabilities they have. As well as obviously looking around to see what capabilities can meet their own defense requirements.
We have a significant list of keynote speakers this year which I think is going to be a major attraction for those visiting the exhibition, particularly over the Tuesday and the Wednesday. Secretary of State for Defence, the Right Honorable Ben Wallace who will be speaking; Chief of Defence Staff will be sharing a platform with the Permanent Under Secretary, Sir Stephen Lovegrove. We have the Chiefs of the single services, and the Chief of the joint force as well. We have the Chief Executive of the Defence Scientific Laboratories speaking also. As well as the Cabinet Secretary. Which I think makes an important point about the centrality of defense and security within the context of government and of the prosecution of foreign policy.
One of the interesting ways that DSEI seems to have developed over the last two or three exhibitions to my knowledge is the extent to which security has become much more of a feature. Much more important. And I think the name of the exhibition, Defence and Security Equipment International, gives the game away to an extent. But actually we’re seeing a lot of focus now on security and in the joint arena, in the global theater this year. There’s a daily focus on security and that ranges right across the piece from CBRN protection to C2, about how we can deal with malicious use of the internet, how we can use drone technology and protect ourselves from drone technology, that sort of thing. So that’s another interesting area where we’re seeing development. I think hence the significance of the Cabinet Secretary coming to speak to us.
Mr. Muradian: It is extraordinary, and you were saying whether it’s anti-nuclear technology or cyber and you see how many, not jut drone, but counter-drone systems as well, given the concerns associated with that.
So let me ask you a last question about numbers. Where did you guys end up last year in terms of total attendance? You talked a little bit about more pavilions, more contractors. 1700. Where were you on the final attendance figures last year? And I’m not necessarily going to hold you to it, but how do you think you guys are going to do this year? Because I know you guys have been working to try to keep growing and expanding, not just the show here but the Clarion family of events all around the world.
Maj. Gen. (Ret) Porter: Well I think we’re excited, and I think our aim clearly has been to outdo ourselves year on year as a metric. But I think it’s important as people understand the significance of this exhibition, to actually come here.
We’re hoping, of course the exhibition is not yet open, but we’re hoping that during the course of this week we’ll see about 35,000 people through the door. From the international community ranging from procurers of defense capability to the user of defense capability and their ministers. And that will significantly outdo what we saw last year.
So we’re confident based on how the pre-season, if you like, has developed, and the interest that’s been generated in DSEI that we’re going to get say in the region of 35,000 people and that will be good success for us, I think.
Mr. Muradian: I love it, you saying pre-season. Because these shows really are, you’re in the pre-season. You guys have been in workup for the last two years. All the best, sir. Retired British Army Major General Roddy Porter who is the spokesman for DSEI here. Sir, it’s always an honor and pleasure. Thanks very much.
Maj. Gen. (Ret) Porter: Thank you very much.
Mr. Muradian: Break a leg all week, but we’re going to manage to see you all the time and hopefully towards the end of the week we can manage to talk again.
Maj. Gen. (Ret) Porter: I hope so. Enjoy the show. And it’s really good to see you. Thank you.