Dubai Air Show 2023: Strong Pitch Made by Russia with Imposing Industry Presence

Defence Industry

Dubai: Even as the conflict between Ukraine and Russia rages, Russia has made a strong pitch at the ongoing Air Show here with an imposing industry presence, complete with a standalone national pavilion and a variety of fixed-wing, uncrewed, rotary, space and air defence systems, and air-launched missiles.

Many of the firms showing off their wares at Al Maktoum International Airport are under sanction from Washington and its allies. But the open participation of Russian firms has not apparently led the US to lodge a protest with the UAE or show organizers.

Asked if it had any concerns around the UAE continuing to host the Russian Federation at international trade shows, a US State Department official speaking on background said, “We recognise and acknowledge that countries make their own sovereign decisions about diplomatic and defence engagements. We refer you to the Emirati defence ministry to speak to their defence procurement plans.”

A year and a half into a war Russia expected would last only days, Moscow is eyeing defence exports as a way to bring some much-needed cash into its coffers, as well as provide greater geopolitical ties to players in the region.

“[It is] notable that there is a Russian presence [at the Dubai Air Show], if not mainly in the main exhibition area,” said Douglas Barrie, senior fellow for military aerospace at the UK-based International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) military think tank. “Moscow faces a challenge in sustaining defence sales in the region as near-term domestic demands will almost certainly take precedence.”

The Russian government said in a statement that “our country presented over 250 samples of products” here. A core group of leading Russian defence contractors are participating, though they do not appear on an official exhibitor list from organizers that counts only the Russian space agency Roscosmos as attending. Organizers declined to comment about such a disparity.

The Russian state-affiliated news agency TASS said Russia and the Emirates talked about military co-operation “prospects,” citing information from Dmitry Shugayev, head of Russia’s Federal Service for Military-Technical Cooperation. Other senior officials from Russia’s political and industry circles have also been at the show, including Denis Manturov, Russia’s deputy prime minister and Sergei Chemezov, CEO of Rostec Corporation.

A large Russian pavilion sits on the show grounds but outside the exhibition hall — comparable to how large companies or other nations present their wares inside the hall itself. The Roscosmos stand, the only Russian floor space within the main exhibition hall, primarily displayed ostensibly civil systems with the exception of potential dual-use tech items like a GLONASS laser ranging station, a satellite navigation constellation.

Other major players spotted here though include the Rostec Group, United Aircraft Corporation (UAC), Russian Helicopters, as well as Rosoboronexport, the national export agency, which is displaying, for the first time at an international air show, the Ilyushin Il-76MD90A(E) large transport aircraft.

The KA-52 attack helicopter, a platform subjected to many losses from low-level and short-range shoot down attacks by Ukraine over the course of the conflict, has also been on static display.

Russian space agency Roscosmos remains the only exhibitor from the ‘Russian Federation’ listed by organisers on the Dubai Air Show website despite a collection of the country’s leading defence firms showing up.

Uncrewed aerial vehicles like the BAS-220 helicopter drone were on view too, alongside a series of civil aviation rotorcraft. UAC showcased several not-to-scale models of the Viking medium range Surface to Air Missile (SAM) system. Additionally, Russian Knights from the Russian Air Force, comprising Sukhoi Su-30 and Su-35 fighter jets, took part in a flying display, a rare appearance for the acrobatic demonstration squad abroad. Notably missing from the show, however, is the Sukhoi Su-75 Checkmate, Russia’s headline-grabbing fighter from the 2021 Dubai Air Show.