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Adriatic Sea Defense & Aerospace (ASDA) is a specialised tri-service defence exhibition in a large and growing market focused on International Defence, Homeland Security, Cyber Security, Security & Protection and Aerospace.

The costal Croatian city of Split hosted the fifth ‘Adriatic Sea Defence & Aerospace Exhibition and Conference’ (ASDA) from 10 to 12 April 2019. This bi-annual event covers defence, aerospace, cyber defence and homeland security, and is organised by the US company TNT Productions with support from the Croatian Ministry of Defence (MoD). ASDA began in 2011, under a contract for 5 such exhibitions, with the 2019 edition being final one in the initially agreed cycle. As the organisers determined the event series to be a success, during ASDA 2019, a contract was subsequently signed for a further five such events to be staged in Croatia.

Foreign defence ministers, chiefs of staff and delegates at the ASDA 2019 opening ceremony

Unlike some similar industry gatherings in the region, ASDA is not exclusively focused on promoting the defence industry in Croatia but is truly an international event. Official sources claim that this year’s edition of ASDA had, in total, 185 exhibitors from 26 countries, making it the largest organised to date. The exhibition space used for the event was 30% larger than 2017, which made it necessary to use asecondary exhibition hall as well as open spaces around the Spaladium arena – traditional ASDA venue in Split. This year, the Croatian MoD organised a technical exhibition in the next-door space of the naval base Lora, a successful test of future possible ASDA expansion, as declared by Roman Mikulić, Assistant Minister of Defence and Croatian Armament Director. During the exhibition, a number of specialised panels took place, making together the conference component of ASDA 2019. Most of them were led by experts from the ranks of the larger exhibitors, culminating in a discussion on the future prospects of the Croatian defence industry. It is thought that in future ASDA’s, this segment of the programme will be further strengthened.

The main benefit of holding ASDA in Croatia are the opportunities for regional networking and outreach. In this light, it is important to emphasise the arrival of 145 official delegates from some 34 countries. All of them were hosted by the Croatian MoD as well as a total of eight ministers of defence and 7 chiefs of staffs from neighbouring and partner countries. This group of VIP visitors took their time to acquaint themselves with the services and equipment on offer and held a series of talks with various industry representatives. The special feature of ASDA 2019 was the inclusion of three national pavilions – from Israel, Slovenia and Bosnia and Herzegovina, which made it possible to exhibit a coherent palette of products from smaller producers, side by side with world giants such as Lockheed Martin, Bell, Saab, Elbit or Rafael. Altogether, a total of 5,259 visitors came to the event from a total of 46 countries, where the entrance fee earnings were donated to the Croatian military solidarity fund on the final day of the exhibition.

A JAS 39 GRIPEN model with Croatian markings at SAAB’s stand on ASDA 2019

The international cast of exhibitors was dominated by the companies interested in the defence requirements of Croatia and the region. So, there were the two main contenders for the new fighter aircraft of Croatian Air Forces – the Swedish SAAB, which brought a large model of JAS 39 Gripen with Croatian markings, and Lockheed Martin, which besides the F-16 simulator, also presented the Sikorsky UH-60 Black Hawk. These are helicopters that Croatia might consider procuring after the recent arrival of an US donation of two such aircraft. Bell Helicopters has emphasised their civilian and military products, well represented in Croatia, Montenegro and North Macedonia, while MBDA and Rafael presented their respective ranges of various missiles for the defence of air and coastal spaces. The Israeli Elbit presented the future composition of its 30mm weapon station on Croatian AMV Patria armoured transport vehicles, which is soon to be delivered to the Croatian Armed Forces. A range of communications equipment was presented, among others, the Rohde & Schwarz digital radios of the Soveron line, which are to equip the German Bundeswehr within the scope of the SVFuA programme. Also significant was the range of unmanned systems on offer from multiple parties, complimented with various defensive solutions for combating the emerging threats that such drones pose to military and civilian sphere alike. As stated by the Croatian MoD, this element of unmanned systems and defence thereof, as well as the cyber defence might form a topic to be highlighted during the next ASDA, scheduled for Spring 2021.

While the presentation of the Croatian defence industry did not overwhelm the ASDA 2019 programme, it was nevertheless present and visible. The demonstration by the Croatian Armed Forces presented the joint capabilities of the Croatian Navy, Air Force and newly formed marine units, while also deploying its new Brodosplit patrol ship, OOB-31 ‘Omiš’, a prototype that is being tested before a becoming the first vessel in a class of five similar ships. HS Produkt from Karlovac, the Croatian producer of handguns – represented on the US market by Springfield Inc. (voted US handgun of the year in 2003, 2006, 2009 and 2013) – presented its range of assault rifles, while also showcasing its upcoming co-operation with FN Herstal. The product of this partnership will be HS Produkt taking part in the worldwide production of FN Minimi, while offering the Squad Automatic Weapon for the Croatian Army as well. The scope of personal infantry equipment was rounded through domestic production of apparel, tactical and ballistic equipment presented by the strong exporters Šestan-Busch and Kroko, as well as of new Takrad tactical radios.

Ammunition production from a range of producers was introduced through the state-owned Alan Agency, as well as the Croatian capability to manufacture the 8*8 Patria AMV vehicles by Đuro Đaković consortium from Slavonski Brod. A special emphasis was also placed on the presentation of research and development capacity of the Croatian academia. In particular, space was given to the Faculty of Mechanical Engineering and Naval Architecture from Zagreb, whose student team won the US AIAA Graduate Team Aircraft Design Competition in late 2018.

Igor Tabak is an analyst for defence and security based in Zagreb, Croatia, and member of the Homeland Security Council of the President of the Republic of Croatia.