International Defence Conference 2021, under the patronage of His Highness Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, President of the UAE, was held for the first time in a hybrid format, with attendees being welcomed virtually and in-person. The conference, held at the ADNOC Business Center, brought together over 24 experts and specialists in the defence sector, with over 2,400 delegates from 80 nations joining the conference.
Held under the theme of ‘The Prosperity and Development of Artificial Intelligence and Advanced Technology and the Protection in the Era of the 4IR’, the conference is organised by the Abu Dhabi National Exhibitions Company (ADNEC) and the Tawazun Economic Council (Tawazun), in cooperation with the Ministry of Defense and the General Command of the UAE Armed Forces. The conference is held prior to the launch of the International Defence Exhibition and the Naval Defence Exhibition (IDEX and NAVDEX) 2021, which will be held from 21 – 25 February at the Abu Dhabi National Exhibitions Centre.
His Excellency Mohammed bin Ahmed Al Bowardi, Minister of State for Defence Affairs in the UAE, inaugurated the conference. His Excellency highlighted how the UAE plays a critical role in advancing global defence industries. Subsequently, four main sessions were held, with the participation of a group of Emirati and international figures specialised in topics including defence affairs, advanced technology, and the fourth industrial revolution.
His Excellency Mohammed bin Ahmed Al Bowardi, Minister of State for Defence Affairs, commented: “The United Arab Emirates have harnessed the wealth of possibilities made available by using advanced technology and artificial intelligence. Our nation has coped with the pandemic on the local and global stage effectively and efficiently. In spite of the darkest of circumstances, the UAE continues to achieve momentous scientific and cultural achievements. Furthermore, we extended the hand of friendship to many nations around the world struggling during this time. Our nation exemplified the model of driving disruptive, yet systematic progress. We are a capital of tolerance, a beacon for peaceful coexistence. Our achievements are achievements for all of humanity.
“Today, we hold an excellent opportunity to discuss how to protect the development of artificial intelligence and cutting-edge technology. Furthermore, we can confer on how the pandemic has impacted supply chains for global private sector companies, including industries such as healthcare, transportation, and of course, defence. The pandemic has forced us to reconsider supply chains, ensuring they are more resilient to face future challenges.
“Additionally, technologies of the fourth industrial revolution are crucial for future defence capabilities. This is particularly pertinent as a number of these revolutionary methods greatly differ from traditional defence industries. Our industry has to work together to protect these pieces of technology from being used by malevolent state and non-state actors. The defence sector must co-operate carefully with a wide range of stakeholders in order to accelerate innovation and integrate new and modern technologies into our daily practice.
“The rapid influx of technology is creating greater complexity in the defence sector. As such, research and development in the security sector is increasingly critical to building more secure defence infrastructure. Of greatest concern is the need for cooperation between researchers working in the public sector, the private sector, and academia. We need to ensure that defence applications of the fourth industrial revolution continue to evolve, and accordingly, establishing centres for extensive research and testing is of serious gravity.
“Finally, we must meticulously examine how cyber security aligns with technological transformation. Future defence confrontation will take place in the realm of the digital. Government and non-governmental organisations must carefully collaborate to realise tactical, operational, and strategic digital defence protocols. Our world is now intricately interwoven electronically, and the need of cybersecurity to protect that world is paramount, particularly in the realm of defence.”
The first session, held under the title ‘Exploring innovative opportunities in supply-chain ecosystem management beyond the COVID-19 Pandemic’, welcomes His Excellency Suhail Bin Mohammed Faraj Faris Al Mazrouei; Helmut Rauch, CEO & President of Diehl Defence; and Tim Cahill, Senior Vice President at Lockheed Martin International. This session is moderated by Badr Al Olama, Head of Mubadala Aerospace – Mubadala Investment Company.
His Excellency Suhail bin Mohammed Faraj Faris Al Mazrouei, Minister of Energy and Industry commented: “Over the past year, we have worked to complete the drafting of the new maritime bill, and now we are finalising its approval. In addition, we have issued five ministerial decisions to regulate the UAE’s maritime sector. We consistently seek to ensure that legislation maintains the pace as ongoing developments in the maritime industry.
“The UAE has achieved a wide range of significant achievements, most notably in joining an association of international maritime agreements. These pieces of legislation advance the UAE in global competitiveness indicators. In addition, the UAE’s flag in the International Shipping Index has risen from 44% to 94% over the past five years. The index is a global indicator, issued by the International Chamber of Shipping, which measures performance of maritime administrations in attracting investors and ship owners to nation’s ports, and encouraging them to register their ships under the UAE flag, maintaining our nation’s maritime sector’s overall attractiveness.
“The Ministry, in partnership with a range of public and private sector entities, alongside R&D centres, is studying a range of international technological applications, and will be submitting them to international organisations for approval. Concepts include the use of autonomous ships, the use of 3D printing to create spare parts while a ship is at sea, using radar to measure ship exhaust fumes and ensure international regulatory compliance, and using automated submarines to inspect the underwater hull of ships. Finally, we look to create unified National Marine Database, which can develop the UAE’s maritime sector and facilitate commercial transactions, providing greater commercial traffic between the UAE’s ports.”
H.E. Ahmad bin Abdulaziz Al-Ohali, Governor of the General Authority for Military Industries, commented: “Saudi defence has continued to operate effectively during the pandemic, demonstrating the effectiveness and the resiliency of our supply chains, alongside the success of our wider strategies. We continue to focus on this area, operating both independently and in close collaboration with our allies. The pandemic has advanced our technology years into the future, accelerating movement into digitalisation, particularly in supply chain management.
“Collaborative investments in technological research and development is fundamental to creating a strategic advantage in the modern combat arena. In line with the targets of Saudi Vision 2030, the government began a defence localisation programme prior to the pandemic, targeting localising over 50% of Saudi’s military expenditure and increasing our R&D budget from 2% to 4%.
“Competition is healthy for efficiency and creativity. However, in the defence sector, cooperation is not optional; it is necessary. It complements innovations, supply chain management, and employment schemes. Some of the most life altering technological innovations, such as Global Positioning Satellites, the internet, medical robotics, unmanned vehicles, and autonomous instruments were originally developed in the defence sector.”
The second session, held under the title ‘Protecting AI and other technologies of the fourth industrial revolution technologies in the age of collaboration and diffusion’, is joined by His Excellency Omar Bin Sultan Al Olama; Micael Johansson, Chief Executive Officer at Saab Group; Heidi Grant, Director of the Defence Security Cooperation Agency in the United States of America, and Eric Papin, Executive VP Technical and Innovation Officer, Naval Group. This session is moderated by Tate Nurkin, CEO and President of the OTH Intelligence Group and Fellow at the Atlantic Council.
His Excellency Omar bin Sultan Al Olama, Minister of State for Artificial Intelligence, Digital Economy and Teleworking Applications, commented: “The United Arab Emirates is a country that looks ahead. We plan proactively rather than reactively to changes, and artificial intelligence will reshape the world as we know it. We are seeing an increasing infusion of systems that are productive and critical to our economies. Defending these systems is as critical as defending the sovereignty of our nation. The UAE has a chief cybersecurity officer that secures these systems. We have invested in companies which invest billions of dollars in research and development, and we plan to ensure that we remain on the cutting edge of keeping these systems secured.
“In the deployment of artificial intelligence, there are a range of challenges, principally ignorance within the decision process. Additionally, if accurate variables are not set, and an artificial intelligence programme does not have the correct data sets, then the system’s decision making processes will be hindered.
“Finally, if artificial intelligence software is not developed locally, or the country itself is not involved in the development process, there is always the chance of backdoor access. This can lead to data sets being impaired by malicious third-parties, which can impact these systems and have a detrimental impact on the nation. Humans are the most critical aspect of artificial intelligence development, with local capabilities that can develop these systems. The other aspect is ensuring hardware is in place, with the computing capability and systems required to ensure effective deployment of artificial intelligence across the nation.”
The third session focuses on ‘Strengthening the defence industries R&D in an increasingly dynamic global context’. Participants on this session include: Faisal Al Bannai, CEO and Managing Director of EDGE; His Excellency TareqAbdulraheem Al Hosani, CEO of the Tawazun Economic Council; Dr. Uzi Rubin, Senior Researcher at the Jerusalem Institute of Strategy and Security; Kim Yoon Seok, Deputy Minister Office of Military Force and Resource Management in South Korea; and Lieutenant General (rtd) Theodoros LAGIOS HAF, General Director of General Directorate for Defence Investments and Armaments (GDDIA). This session is moderated by Dr. Noah Raford, Chief of Global Affairs and Futurist-in-Chief, Dubai Future Foundation.
Commenting on the conference commencement, Staff Brigadier Engineer Khalifa Ali Al Kaab, Chairman of the Organising Committee of International Defence Conference 2021, commented: “The launch of the International Defence Conference in Abu Dhabi is a source of great pride for us. We have welcomed and now host global leaders in the defence industry, in spite of the international challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. This conference is not merely an exchange of views; it is a platform that looks forward to the future, placing experts and decision-makers at the discussion table. During this conference, we look to draw a roadmap that provides solutions for pressing global issues and challenges through deep discussion and debate.
“This conference holds strategic importance and highlights the importance of global cooperation to face pressing current and future technological challenges. Through these discussions, we strengthen global defence infrastructure, ensuring their wider alignment with the technologies of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. The quality of international participants, in both speakers and attendees, reflects the prescience of these current issues.”
Dr.Yehya Al Marzouqi, Vice Chairman of the Conference Organising Committee, and Advisor to the CEO’s Office at Tawazun Economic Council, commented: “As the global defence sector is impacted by exceptional developments in advanced technology, we face new opportunities and threats alike. We face a critical moment which requires thorough and robust discussion and collaboration.
“The International Defence Conference showcases the complex interdependence between the defence sector and pivotal industries. When facing these threats, the defence industryhas to be flexible, making the need to discuss ongoing challenges and industry complexities imperative at this moment. By uniting global industry leaders at this conference, we enable and foster greater international collaboration on a number of critical issues.”
HumaidMatarAl Dhaheri, Managing Director and Group CEO of the Abu Dhabi National Exhibitions Company, said: “We are proud to hold the International Defence Conference in Abu Dhabi. Convening this event strengthens our steps to welcome the world once again to our facilities. Further, it provides an effective contribution in transferring and localising knowledge to the UAE. Such a contribution is demonstrated by the global expertise, present both in-person and via virtual channels, in this first hybrid version of the conference, organised by ADNEC and Tawazun.”
AlDhaheri added: “Holding the International Defence Conference on schedule demonstrates our ability to attract and organise major international conferences and events. ADNEC is a flexible and efficient events’ organiser, and that is reflected in the international community’s confidence in Abu Dhabi as a safe global destination that has effectively contained the COVID-19 pandemic. We have adopted a wide range of precautionary measures and procedures that ensure the health and safety of all participants, in line with leading global standards, which allow attendees to meet and do business. Such measures demonstrate how Abu Dhabi remains the region’s capital for business tourism.”
The Conference concludes with the fourth session entitled ‘A holistic view on cyber security resiliency during the era of digital transformation.’ Speaking at the session are: His Excellency Dr. Mohamed Al Kuwaiti, Head of Cyber Security for the UAE Government; Vice Admiral Dinesh Kumar Tripathi AVSM NM, Director General of Naval Operations; Dr. Najwa Aaraj, Chief Researcher at the Cryptography Research Centre at the Technology Innovation Institute; Marco Obiso, Cybersecurity Coordinator at the International Telecommunication Union; and TõnuTammer, Executive Director of CERT-EE in the Estonian Information System Authority. This session will be moderated by Dr. Bushra AlBlooshi, Head of Research and Innovation at the Dubai Electronic Security Centre.
Both ADNEC and the organising committees of IDEX and NAVDEX exhibitions and the International Defence Conference have implemented the highest standard of safety measures for all. All attending the Conference are required to have a negative polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test before entering. In addition, social distancing measures and the wearing of personal protective equipment (PPE) is being mandated across exhibitions and conference facilities.