More than 720 companies from Russia, Israel, South Korea and all over the world have come to Rio to flog their guns, ammo, aerospace tech, corporate security and more at the largest defense and security tech show in South America.
Held every other year in Brazil, the mammoth LAAD Defence and Security International Exhibition runs April 9 to 12 and has wall-to-wall equipment, services and technology for armed forces, police and special forces.
And it’s a surprisingly entertaining show.
Compared to other big events on the international defense show circuit, LAAD is less stuffy and more Rio: By 5 p.m. on day one, many of the defense giants had already cracked open the hospitality spreads. From champagne, wine and beer through to drinks with national signature liquors, it was the place to shop for the latest in defense and security tech -- if you like to do business Don Draper-style, that is.
Opening later in the morning than most big international weapons shows (we’re looking at you, SHOT Show), it means those buying and selling can make the most of the hospitality before doing deals in Rio’s most glamorous hotspots, the beaches of Copacabana or Ipanema.
As you may expect from a country that churns out international supermodels, even the staff manning the security checkpoints and information desks look like they came the books of modeling agencies.
Firearms are not permitted inside LAAD, as you might expect at a massive defense show. As you enter the outer security perimeter, you hand your guns and ammunition to women who look like Victoria's Secret Angels, who arrange for their safekeeping.
Inside the show, LAAD’s sprawling layout incorporates the outdoors far more seamlessly than other shows, and transitioning from one area to another involves a stroll outdoors, with a dramatic backdrop of the mountains.
The big business of defense
While the atmosphere may be less uptight and stuffy, big business is still being done. Defense and security companies from all over the world use this show to woo commanders, commissioners and police chiefs, those particularly from Brazil and Latin America.
While countries like the United States and Great Britain may be focused on downsizing, the Latin market is still hungry to buy big.
Brazil in particular has two very high-profile events coming up: soccer’s World Cup and the Summer Olympics, which bring with them tough security challenges.
Latin American armed forces uniforms abound at the show, with active duty personnel dominating the space. Brazilian ministers, senior government staff and military working on defense procurement are all walking the floor.
For countries in the market to amp up their defense and security tech, the number of options has grown considerably since the last LAAD. In a mere five years, the LAAD show has grown fivefold in size. Business is so big that it has required an additional four halls to provide enough space for defense companies to showcase their tech.
More than 720 companies are represented, up from the 663 exhibitors at LAAD’s last show. For those who came to sell, this year’s potential buyer line-up also far outstripped the last show. In 2011, there were 63 official delegations from 61 countries and nearly 26,000 visitors from 54 countries walking the floors.
Attendees have increased about 20 percent with more than 30,000 visitors expected and 65 official delegations from Brazil, Latin America and other countries.
Many countries have chosen to participate with national pavilions.
China, Russia, Israel, India, France, Germany, Turkey, South Africa, Australia, South Korea and the UK have the largest of these national pavilions this year. Home country Brazil also has a very big presence including separate areas for each armed force.
Newer countries tapping the Latin market through LAAD include UAE, China, Pakistan, Belarus and Singapore. From the Middle East, Pakistan and Israel have the biggest presence.
In addition to home country Brazil, Latin countries Argentina, Colombia, Chile, Paraguay, Venezuela, and Uruguay have also shown up in full force looking to sell and to shop.
Ballet dancer turned defense specialist Allison Barrie has traveled around the world covering the military, terrorism, weapons advancements and life on the front line. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter @Allison_Barrie.