By Richard Jones
The 12th edition of the Defence and Security Equipment International (DSEI) exposition saw the return of the “new normal” post-pandemic with full exhibition halls and a record number of visitors and exhibitors. As has been the custom for many years the exposition was held at the EXCEL Centre in the London Docklands. According to statistics provided by the event organizers, attendance was up by 23% compared to DSEI 2019 (with DESI 2021 being something of a watershed mid-pandemic), the event hosting over 1,500 exhibitors, including more than 250 first-time exhibitors. As a globally recognized international event, it featured 36 international pavilions, that of the USA doubling in size from the last event. VIP visits topped 3,500 and international delegations exceed 100. The exhibition areas are two very large rectangular halls with adjacent docking facilities for visiting warships from several nations.
Many of the new exhibitors at DSEI 2023 were within “Future Tech”, including Sony, IBM, Oracle, Panasonic, and Palantir who were among the companies demonstrating the broad reach of DSEI beyond its traditional defense and industrial base. These companies exhibited alongside the traditional defense industry, including all the major manufacturers.
The exposition is sponsored by the UK Ministry of Defence which has large, single-service exhibition areas. The principal Army event of the show was the formal introduction into service of the Knight’s Armament Company (KAC) KS-1 5.56mm assault rifle (British nomenclature L403A1) as the Alternative Infantry Weapon (AIW) and the weapon of choice of the recently formed “Ranger” brigade. The KS-1 has a modified direct gas-impingement system and bucks the recent trend of piston-operated generic Armalite-type (AR-15) platforms.
Continuing a recent trend of Turkish manufacturers of sporting firearms moving into the production of military small arms, there was a large presence of the former at DSEI 2023. Among those exhibiting was Sarsilmaz with their 9x19mm SAR 109T sub-machine gun based on the classic M4 carbine type-chassis and yet another copy of the venerable soviet/Russian AKM, the SAR 15T which is reportedly in service with the Turkish armed forces.
Another Turkish manufacturer offering a number of small and large caliber small arms was Canik, previously best known for its handgun production.
Advanced Weapons and Equipment India Limited (AWE), formerly Ordnance Factory Kanpur who were previously part of the former Ordnance Factory Board (OFB) of India before the 2021 reorganization of the latter into seven private sector entities, provided a display of their current small arms and infantry weapon products.
Another AWE product is their belt-fed 7.62x51mm “LMG” with monobloc receiver the design of which is reminiscent of the Barratt LW240 design of some years ago.
Given the prominence of the show, market leaders in the manufacture of small arms and infantry weapons were in attendance.
The Germany-based manufacturer of small arms Heckler & Koch also previewed an example of their HK421, a compact lightweight version of their MG5 general purpose machine gun (GPMG), the latter is also thought to be contender in the forthcoming UK MoD competition to replace the in-service L7A2 GPMG.
SIG Sauer were present and showed examples of the XM7 automatic rifle, XM250 light machine gun, and 338 Norma Magnum (NM) caliber medium machine gun (MMG), with interest in the latter being expressed by several armies who wish to fill the gap between the effective range of 7.62mm NATO caliber weapons and the larger heavier .50 Browning (12.7x99mm) caliber heavy machine gun (HMG) with a man-portable weapon in the intermediate caliber approximating the size and weight of the classic rifle caliber GPMG.
The UK-based Steel Core Designs is an independent company traditionally offering a range of precision arms. At this show, the company unveiled a new rifle in a departure from its regular line, the “Black Widow” selective-fire assault rifle in 5.56x45mm NATO caliber. A new design that does not owe its origins to the generic Armalite AR-15 platform.
The SAAB AB Carl Gustaf 84mm recoilless gun system was available to view in the latest M4 configuration. First entering service with the Swedish armed forces in 1948, the M2 version saw widespread adoption during the Cold War period. It was a contemporary of the later Soviet RPG-7 grenade-launcher, both systems initially entered service in the anti-tank role. With the subsequent introduction of disposable, shoulder-fired anti-armor weapons the days of the “Charlie G” appeared to be numbered. However, the continuing need for a gun and selectable ammunition combination led to the introduction of the M3 variant and subsequent adoption as the Multi-Role Anti-Armor Anti-Personnel Weapon System (MAAWS) by the U.S. armed forces. Much lightened from the M2 configuration’s 14.2kg (31 lb.) all-steel construction, the M4 bi-material barrel construction gun now weighs in at ~ 7kg (~15 lb). Another feature has been the development of multiple types of warheads. The latest HE 448 round when used with the fire control device (FCD) 558 can be programmed to burst on impact or air-burst, selection being made while the round is chambered ready for firing.
The Polish Armaments Group PGZ (Polska Grupa Zbrojeniowa S.A.), a holding company established by the Polish government to unite Polish state-owned defense industry companies, were in attendance with a range of their product line, including the GX Warhead series for unmanned vehicles and UAVs developed by the Military Institute of Armament Technology. Zakłady Mechaniczne Tarnów (ZMT) of Tarnow have developed a new range of small arms based on the generic Armalite AR-15 platform.
On show floor was the AJAX tracked armored fighting vehicle (AFV), a replacement for the British long serving Warrior AFV that has been at the center of technical issues and program delays. The AJAX fleet will consist of a number of sub-variants, and should no further technical issues arise, the prime manufacturer General Dynamics is expected to begin deliveries sometime in 2025.
Much in evidence in media coverage of the Ukraine/Russia conflict is the BAE Systems M777 155mm Lightweight Towed Howitzer which has been sold in large numbers.
The South Korean armored vehicle manufacturer Hanwha has been successful with several major export sales of their K9 Thunder 155mm self-propelled howitzer (SPH). The British Army is looking to fill the gap in self-propelled artillery after a significant number of the fleet of ageing AS90 SPHs were transferred to Ukraine.
The present conflict in the Crimea between the Ukraine and Russia has, to the uninitiated eye, raised issues as to the viability of main battle tanks (MBT’s) in any future conflict and this edition of DSEI did not feature large, armored displays, reflecting perhaps a wait-and-see mood in regards to what equipment will be fielded over the next decade?
SHOW REGISTRATION: Registration for DSEI 2023 was online-only. No facility for registration on-site was provided. Prior registration (online-only) is expected to become an established practice going forward.
NEXT SHOW: DSEi 2025, 9-12 September
LOCATION: EXCEL Centre, London Docklands