Canadian defense firms featured at IDEX weapons bazaar in Abu Dhabi

Canada's peaceful image belies the global ambition of its military-industrial complex. Canadian defense firms were featured at IDEX, a weapons bazaar in Abu Dhabi.

IDEX: Brochure detail from international arms show in Abu Dhabi
IDEX 2013 logo, via

Canada cultivates its image as a peaceful nation. Indeed, the Canadian Forces' recruitment ad depicts the nation's troops fighting the forces of nature, downplaying its action against human foes.

This is not the entire picture, though. While Canada doesn't publicly project its will via military might, its government is not opposed to Canadian companies selling weapons of war in order to turn a buck.

To that end, 25 Canadian firms presented at IDEX 2013, an international military and defense trade show held in Abu Dhabi last month.

Gulf News also covered the Frozen North's presence at the Middle East's weapons show.

A report to the Canadian Government predicts a drop-off in US spending on weapons systems, seeing it as an opportunity of Canada's own military-industrial complex to step in and provide technology to those willing to pay for it. This includes governments in the Middle East, South Asia, East Asia, and South America.

The report is titled "Canada First: Leveraging Defense Procurement through Key Industrial Capabilities" (pdf). In reading it, you'll see past some of the euphemistic language to the point of the pitch: Canada can make a lot of money by selling weapons. The report focuses on high-tech systems and software over traditional weaponry:

This orientation is reinforced by the trend in U.S. defence requirements, with increasing emphasis on technology-driven solutions for threats of the future (cyber, intelligence, surveillance) relative to a traditional “boots on the ground” focus. It is also reinforced by the need regarding future planning of mission requirements for defence platforms to take a modular approach to technologically advanced sub-systems, recognizing that innovation evolves at different rates.

Not coincidentally, you'll notice that IDEX 2013 has a special "unmanned systems" section.

"Unmanned systems": that would mean drones, which the United States is willing to deploy on home soil.

The report was written by Tom Jenkins, Executive Chairman of OpenText and Honourary Colonel in the Canadian Reserves. OpenText is Canada's largest software company: aside from clients such as SAP and Melbourne Water, OpenText boasts 141 aerospace and defense partners, so Jenkins is not new to the game.

According to Jenkins' report, the defense and security industry contributed $9 billion to Canada's 2011 GDP.

So, what does a Canadian defense firm bring to an international weapons bazaar? Anything from software to heavy vehicles. Canadian companies tend not to be sole manufacturers of heavy weaponry, but contributors to the finished product. For example, the Streit Group brought armored vehicles. Lots of armored vehicles.

A chart provided by the Coalition to Oppose the Arms Trade shows Canada's contribution to the armoured-vehicle stock in the Middle East. Canada's biggest customer is also America's best frenemy in the region: Saudi Arabia. (Note that Saudi Arabia buys more weapons from the USA than from anyone else; and is in turn backing Syria, which is fighting a brutal war against its own people.)

Wanna buy some weapons?

Okay, General/Field Marshal/Dictator-for-Life, wanna buy some heavy artillery? Have a look at the IDEX 2013 brochure (pdf). You know you want to. (Yes, there is a printed brochure. IDEX may not get as much press as SXSW, but it isn't held in secret. This sort of defense-technology trade show is nothing like the opening scene from Tomorrow Never Dies.)

Canada looks to the future of war

So, is Canada a major player in the arms game? Not even close, at least not yet. Canada's firms don't even crack the top 70 in the world, and Canada's CAE, which delivers training and simulation products, was only the 44th largest exhibitor at this year's IDEX.

As a nation, Canada dropped out of the top 11 overall conventional-weapons sellers, according to a report by the Federation of American Scientists as part of its Arms Sales Monitoring Project: Conventional Arms Transfers to Developing Nations (pdf). Canada was 14th in the world overall as of 2011.

But, hey, there's always next year, or at least the year after: exhibitor space at IDEX 2015 is already on sale.

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