Tuesday, April 2, 2013

IDEX– Showcasing Mark’s work

IDEX 117
Mark and his Fu Manchu vehicle

There usually isn’t much I can say about what Mark is doing over here. He works at a high security military facility, and I can’t visit him there, much less write anything about it. But IDEX, a biennial exhibition and conference, provided an opportunity to see his work, take photos, and write about it in the blog.

According to the IDEX website:

The International Defence Exhibition and Conference, IDEX, is the most strategically important tri-service defence exhibition in the world. IDEX is the only international defence exhibition and conference in the MENA region demonstrating the latest technology across land, sea and air sectors of defence. It is a unique platform to establish and strengthen relationships with government departments, businesses and armed forces throughout the region.

A few days before the conference began it was Valentine’s Day, and Deb and I met Mark, Tom and Dana at a hotel near the exhibition center, ADNEC, for a bubbly and snack. As we left the hotel, a large group of young guys clad in pristine black jumpsuits and matching caps were coming in through the hotel door. “Hey, I like those snappy uniforms,” I said. “Why don’t you guys dress like that?”

“Because,” they replied. “We’re not snipers.” Oh.
The normally vacant bleacher area became
a hub of activity for several weeks.
There had been a lot of action around ADNEC that week; it looked like they were tearing up and rebuilding the whole place, which around here isn’t as far fetched as it sounds. They tore apart and rebuilt part of the pedestrian bridge, and were setting up tents and temporary buildings everywhere. On my neighborhood bike rides near Al Bateen Airport, I was being buzzed by the fighter jets practicing right overhead. One day we were driving past ADNEC and suddenly came upon a road closure. We looked up and saw a group of paratroopers practicing dropping in. It was all pretty exciting.
The show was an opportunity for Mark, Tom and Dana to show off some innovative vehicle repurposing and upgrading solutions they’ve been working on. There were two vehicles that Mark was particularly proud of.

IDEX 064
Al Taif was front and center.

The Al Taif booth, Tom’s, Dana’s, and Mark's employer, featured the latest version of the UAE manufactured NIMR vehicle with a French Nexter ARX20 remote turret mounted to the overhead gun ring. The purpose of including the vehicle in the Al Taif booth was to show the engineering integration skills of Al Taif. Dana and Mark lead the group of engineers and designers who designed, built and installed the turret and controls in the vehicle.

IDEX 012
Passengers riding in back can see the action on
a separate screen.

The vehicle was well placed right next to the main isle where visitors passed to the outside exhibition bleachers.The turret had a dummy gun but was otherwise fully functional, allowing the operator to slew the gun, sight in various targets, and play shoot’em up. Kids, probably because of their computer gaming skills, were the fastest to master the operation. The vehicle was a real hit at the show, with countless visitors stopping by to try it out.
IDEX 046
The critical piece is hidden behind the mustache.

The other vehicle of interest was the black vehicle pictured at the start of this blog. Mark’s design team designed, built and installed the “Fu Manchu” mustache-looking plow on the front of the Police Security NIMR vehicle variant. A high-ranking UAE Army staff officer conceived of the idea for this vehicle at a meeting and challenged the manufacturer to have it ready for IDEX, about 5 weeks hence. Mark's group heard about the need for a plow just 3 weeks before IDEX. No problem they made the delivery with time to spare

IDEX 047
The hydraulic actuator that we now own.

The key to the design, and the hard part, was the rotary hydraulic actuator. Working around the clock because of time differences, Mark located the only one available anywhere at the Helac Corp. factory in Washington State, purchased it using a his credit card, had it air shipped and received it in 3 days. Wow. Of course he’s still waiting to be reimbursed for the cost, but it was worth it to see it on the vehicle. The NIMR manufacturer and UAE Army Staff were very pleased with the outcome.

IDEX 027
HH General Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al Nahyan
speaks with Al Taif's Saeed Rashid Al Shehhi.

The real honor for all was when His Highness General Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, came to the Al Taif booth. He spent a lot of time looking at the NIMR with the ARX20 Turret and talking with Saeed and others. 

IDEX 034
Abdul Azziz introduces HH Sheikh Mohammed to the vehicle.

Mark’s co-worker Abdul Azziz showed and explained the turret to HH Sheikh Mohammed and demonstrated how it worked. What a thrill for Abdul Azziz!  Mark has spent a lot of time working with Abdul Azziz, and enjoys the sharp young Emirati engineer with boatloads of charisma and potential as a future leader.

IDEX mag

A daily IDEX magazine is published, with stories about defense companies and the total of contracts signed at the conference. The next day’s cover photo was of Abdul Azziz and HH General Sheikh Mohammed, making Abdul Azziz a bona fide rock star.

I went to IDEX with Deb on the last day of the conference. I wanted to see the vehicles Mark had been telling me about, and meet some of the people he works with and has talked about. Plus, there was a show with live demonstrations. We went with Dana and sat in the outdoor bleachers facing the road to watch the show. Across the road we could see the military ships at the ADNEC docks, which you could access through the newly rebuilt pedestrian overpass.

IDEX 003
The outdoor theater.

The area in front of the bleachers had been transformed to look like a combination desert scene and stunt show, with a small cluster of little houses on one side and then all sorts of ramps and a big loop. This was the purpose-built Live Mobility Track for vehicle demonstrations. “My kids would love this,” I thought. Brian is on a BMX stunt team, and Nicole rides dirt bikes competitively. High overhead, two large screens were suspended on wires, and two other large screens flanked either side.

IDEX 007
A village scene, with children playing and mothers working, fathers fishing and pearling.

Public events in the UAE always include performances and demonstrations related to Arab culture and UAE’s heritage. The show started with a peaceful scene of family life in the village – children playing games, men and women weaving and preparing food.

IDEX 009
Before oil, the economy was based on fishing, pearling and trading.

Pearling and fishing dhows came by in the background, floating on an elevated moat that had been built especially for the IDEX show. Traditional Arab khaliji music, featuring drums and oud, played in the background. Eventually, groups of boys, men, and young girls entered the arena and began to dance.

IDEX 020
No Arab scene would be complete without camels.
IDEX 031
The men dance rhythmically.

The dancing of the men and boys symbolizes hunting or battles, using swords, sticks or rifles.

IDEX 029

The young girls wore beautiful, brightly colored, sparkly dresses that flowed and fluttered in the wind. They swayed with the music, bending their bodies so that their long flowing black hair swung from side to side. When these girls become young women, they will most likely wear the black abaya covering their dresses and the shayla covering their hair in public, and some will choose to wear a niqab or veil covering their faces. Their beauty will only be seen by their family members and, later, their husbands. This is beginning to change as women enter the work force and must communicate with co-workers and the public, but I think many women are still more comfortable with their faces covered.

IDEX 022
For a long time, the group paraded and danced around the performance area until they finally left the arena. Afterward, an eclectic mix of several bands performed.
IDEX 037
IDEX 035

Then the war started.

Vehicles swarmed into the arena, groups of soldiers ran around with guns, and ATV’s and dirt bikes flew up and down on the jumps and ramps, and looped the loop. I kept thinking how much fun it must have been for those stunt riders. What a gig!
IDEX 139
But it was disconcerting to see the little houses, where the children had been playing and the mothers and fathers working, being blown up. More and more vehicles came, and eventually helicopters and fighter jets. Simulated bombs were dropped and explosives went off on the roofs of the little shacks. Battles were fought and won. Prisoners were marched away, hands in the air. And all the while, the stunt riders rode the ramps and looped the loop, and the vehicles drove up and down the ramps and around the arena, demonstrating their capabilities. It all kicked up a lot of sand.
IDEX 060
IDEX 078
The bad guys, in black, were finally rounded up.

There were several videographers shooting video that was projected onto the screens in real time, cutting from one scene to another. I couldn’t help but be impressed at the seamless video production. Every scene looked like perfectly planned, choreographed chaos, and the photographers seemed to know exactly where to be at any given time. We even saw one scale up the side of one of the towers on a rope, and rappel back down. I wonder if they were soldiers, too.

IDEX 088
This guy had the beauty queen wave down.

The show went on for about an hour and a half – much longer than the one that Mark had seen two days before. Maybe they had a lot of explosives to use up, this being the last day. After the “war” ended, they started parading more vehicles around, sort of like a military vehicle beauty pageant, but we decided it was time to see some of the exhibits. I went back to the Al Taif booth to find Mark.

There were some pretty interesting looking vehicles, but the ones that I thought were the most blog-worthy usually had a “No Photo” sign on them.

The album below has vehicle photos taken by Mark, with captions – some quite humorous – written by him. This includes some of the vehicles he rode in during last year's week-long Summer Trials in the Empty Quarter. 

IDEX 115
GIS technology is everywhere in your life now,
whether you realize it or not.

Somehow, what most easily caught my eye was anything to do with geography …

IDEX 112
It's important to stay hydrated in the desert.

… or gear.

IDEX 085
Mark, Tony Norrish and Tom are longtime colleagues.
Tony works in Turkey now.

Mark is close to the end of a long and successful 40+ year career in the defense industry. I could see that it was gratifying for him to see vehicles that he’s worked on developing, and to run into so many colleagues  that he’s known for so many years. He took me to meet some of the people he worked with at BAE Systems in Santa Clara, California.

Mark has told me of people he knew who were sent to work in far away places like Turkey or Australia, and he saw them at the show as well as some people who came from the U.S. At one time, I could never imagine us moving to such exotic locations, but look where we ended up! It still just amazes me to realize that we are here in the Middle East.

IDEX 075

There are so many resources that are put into defense and the military. What a huge business. As with the auto industry, in which my father worked as a research physicist for 41 years in Detroit, defense is linked to many other other industries, such as transportation and aerospace. As Dana commented when we were leaving, it was amazing to see all this in one place.

Hopefully all this equipment will be used to defend these countries, their citizens, and interests, and not misused for aggressive purposes.

Thanks for reading, and may peace be with you and yours.

Here is a short video of the live show.

No comments: