Companies in the UK’s innovative and experienced security sector flew the flag at MAST Asia 2015, Japan’s first ever defence trade show and conference.
Held at the Pacifico Yokohama Exhibition Hall over three days from May 13, the inaugural event focused on the naval sector and the trade show component attracted companies from around the world.
The majority of the 20-plus UK firms that were present were exploring the Japanese defence sector for the first time, but were positively surprised at the high degree of interest in British capabilities, with naval officers, procurement officials and representatives of foreign companies keen to learn about the skills and know-how that UK firms can deliver.
“It has been better than we expected by a mile,” said Sam West, marketing manager for Atlas Elektronik UK. “I have been to all the MAST exhibitions around the world and I would say this has been the best ever.”
“I think that’s because the Japanese really want it to come here and be a success and the exhibitors are here on the promise of Japan opening up its defence market,” she added.
The first MAST event in Japan came a little over a year after the Japanese government dropped its self-imposed ban on the export of defence-related equipment and collaborations with foreign companies operating in the security sector.
The UK arm of Atlas Elektronik, which is based in Bremen, Germany, reported particular interest in its advanced diver detection equipment, unmanned surface vehicles and remote mine-hunting capabilities and countermeasures.
“We’ve had a lot of people in naval uniforms come and speak to us,” said West. “There have been Japanese officers asking questions, of course, but delegations from Malaysia and Sweden have expressed interest in what we do.”
Newcomers to the Japan market, West admitted that it might take “a couple of years” before the company has built up the contacts, trust and working relationship with a Japanese company or procurers that leads to contracts for products and services.
“Right now, it’s all about researching the market and the opportunities for us here, as well as meeting all the right people,” West said. “Having said that, if we happen to meet the right person, we are in a position to respond quickly.”
Several of the British companies were grouped together beneath the Union Flags that marked the UK pavilion at the event, set up by UK Trade & Investment (UKTI).
“The show has exceeded the expectations of the companies that came out, in terms of the number of people who attended and the degree of interest that was shown by the Japanese Ministry of Defence and members of the Maritime Self-Defence Forces here,” said Tim Johnson, first secretary at the British Embassy in Tokyo and head of Defence, Security and Strategic Trade with the UKTI team in Japan.
The organisers had “crammed a lot into the three-day event,” Johnson said, adding that they had struck a good balance between the trade show and the lectures and presentations examining the changing tactics and needs of modern-day naval forces.
Another plus, he said, was that the event was not too vast, meaning that visitors were able to speak to all the exhibitors they wanted to. The success of the show means that UKTI would be willing to support UK companies that are contemplating taking part in the next Japan edition of MAST, which is expected to return here in 2017.
Tim Hitchens, the British ambassador to Japan, visited the exhibition and expressed his delight at the strong British representation.
“The UK’s defence and security industry is at the forefront of research, design, manufacture and support,” he said. “UK exhibitors at MAST Asia offered world-leading capabilities, including helicopters, maritime engineering services, maritime engines and landing craft.
“UK and Japanese defence and security companies are equal partners in terms of technology and materials, their abilities complement each other in many areas,” he added. “The UK has many years experience as a responsible and accountable defence equipment exporter and is happy to share this experience and best practice with Japan.”
One issue that might hamper UK firms’ access is Japan’s long-standing security relationships with the United States and American companies, although British exhibitors were quick to point out that they can offer solutions that are often better and at a more reasonable price.
The Caimen family of fast landing craft, produced by BMT Group, is one such example, said David Bright, director of the Bath-based company’s defence sector.
“The Japanese know, trust and have worked with the US for a long time, so they have a natural inclination to ask what the US uses when they want to procure,” he said. “We are trying to create awareness that there are some very good alternatives out there and to inform them that the US solution is not the only one.”
BMT Group is a world-leader in fast landing craft, with its vessels able to transport between 60 tonnes and 200 tonnes men, material and vehicles up to 2,000 nautical miles. Designed with a patented “active” bow ramp and a triple-bowed monohull construction, the vessels would be a neat fit as Japan shifts the focus of its defence requirements to protecting remote islands to the southwest of mainland Japan.
The Royal Navy is in talks about acquiring BMT Group landing craft as they are designed to fit inside HMS Bulwark and the company is looking to sign a deal with a Japanese company to have the vessels built under licence in Japan for the MSDF.
For more information about the event, see http://www.mastconfex.com/.
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Article by Julian Ryall, June 2015.