Euronaval 2020 is going ahead in October despite the uncertainties caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. Chris Lo hears from managing director Hugues du Plessis d’Argentré about the key themes planned for the event.

// Hugues du Plessis d’Argentré, managing director of Euronaval. Image © Thierry

While the coronavirus pandemic has seen the vast majority of defence conferences and exhibitions close their doors for 2020, one event has remained resolute in its determination to go ahead. At the end of June, the organisers of Euronaval 2020, the latest iteration of the biannual naval defence and maritime security exhibition at Paris Le Bourget, decided to maintain this year’s event as a physical conference from 20-23 October.

For Euronaval organiser Sogena and its parent company GICAN, the slow repeal of lockdowns and resumption of industrial and commercial activity worldwide were positive enough indications to proceed with this year’s event. The organisers have also said that the number of registered exhibitors and the healthy response to the call for start-ups to exhibit at the SEAnnovation space show that there is still an appetite for a large sector-wide gathering.

Here, Euronaval managing director Hugues du Plessis d’Argentré discusses the challenges of running a major naval event amid a global pandemic, as well as some of the key themes for industry at this year’s exhibition.

// Chris Lo:
As the event approaches, are you confident that all the preparations are currently on schedule?

// Hugues D’Argentré:

The preparations for this edition of Euronaval have obviously been quite particular in view of the health situation. A large number of parameters had to be taken into account that had never been considered before. The exhibition teams have worked tirelessly to offer visitors and exhibitors an event that meets these current challenges.

What inspired your decision to maintain the original dates and location, despite the uncertainties caused by Covid-19?

Euronaval 2020 will be the first and only naval defence exhibition this year, making it even more strategic and important than previous editions. The organisers have decided to maintain this edition in agreement with the board of directors of GICAN and the Ministry of the Armed Forces.

This commitment is obviously intended to support the entire sector and the jobs it generates, both in France and on an international scale. It is a committed position that shows that France has indeed revived the economic machine and that the shipbuilding industry is maintaining its spirit of enterprise and market competition.

How have you modified the event to take the pandemic into account and protect the health of staff and attendees?

We have put in place a health protocol that follows government recommendations for trade shows. As the rules evolve over time and as the virus spreads, we are mobilised on a daily basis to offer a comprehensive, safe and adapted edition. Wearing face masks, respecting protective measures, disinfecting surfaces, hand sanitiser gel available, social distancing, dematerialising on-site supports... all this is being implemented so that the exhibition can take place in optimum conditions.

Equipment demonstration at Euronaval 2018.

Equipment demonstration at Euronaval 2018. Image: Euronaval

Are you hoping Euronaval 2020 will help to accelerate the industry’s recovery as the world gradually comes out of lockdown?

We know what the issues related to trade shows are. Presentation of new technologies, signing of contracts or partnerships, conferences and workshops on the major issues of the industry. The defence sector has suffered from the cancellation of previous events dedicated to this industry. Euronaval 2020 will be a good opportunity to demonstrate the resilience of the naval defence and maritime security sector by revitalising construction and international trade.

Euronaval 2020 will not be just an ordinary copy of previous exhibitions. It will be an exceptional event demonstrating the resistance and revival of the world shipbuilding industry. It will be an atypical naval exhibition inviting industrialists and decision-makers from all over the world to regain confidence and relaunch the world's naval industrial activity.

What do you expect to be some of the key themes at the event, for industry and global navies?

Of course the impact of the current pandemic on the sector will be one of the topics of this edition. But many other topics will be addressed, including the jobs under strain in the sector, European cooperation in shipbuilding, the export market for submarines and innovative strategic partnerships, autonomous systems, special operations, cyber defence and electronic warfare. A number of workshops will be held during the exhibition and a three-part web conference is being organised beforehand.

Are there any key speakers at this year’s exhibition that you would like to highlight?

To date, we cannot officially confirm the presence of all the speakers. We can, of course, announce the arrival of the Minister of the Armed Forces, the General Delegate for Armament, the new Chief of Staff of the Navy, Admiral Pierre Vandier, and of course Hervé Guillou, President of Euronaval. In addition, more than 150 delegations have also received their invitations. The evolution of the pandemic in the coming weeks will be decisive for the arrival of our foreign guests.

Models on display at Euronaval 2018.

Models on display at Euronaval 2018. Image: Euronaval

Could you tell me more about the new Cyber Naval Hub that is being created for Euronaval 2020?

The large number of connected systems on board warships are all potentially exposed to cyber-malware. For naval forces, establishing themselves in the digital environment has become an operational priority. While newer ships incorporate a resilient cyber architecture for their on-board systems by design, the cyber threat is more difficult to apprehend for ships that have been in service for a few years.

Cyber security has therefore become a major challenge for the entire defence sector. In a digitised and interconnected world, the cyber threat is on the increase across the whole of the civil and military maritime domain.

Consequently, the organisers of Euronaval in partnership with CEIS, specialised in cyber defence consulting, have decided to create a new space: the Cyber Naval Hub. Industry leaders and public administrations will be able to showcase their innovations in this exhibition pavilion, exchange best practices and imagine solutions of the future for improving digital trust.

Do you expect the SEAnnovation start-up space at the event to continue the success of the 2018 edition?

Resolutely focused on the future and the tomorrow’s technologies, Euronaval 2020 will once again be the exhibition for discovery and innovation.

The SEAnnovation space dedicated to start-ups was launched at Euronaval 2018 in partnership with Starburst and the GICAN. Given the success of this initiative and following the French President’s visit, it was inconceivable not to renew this space. It is intended to host and promote 40 or so start-ups from France and abroad in a dedicated area with round tables, keynotes and pitches taking place over the four days.

All start-ups involved in defence or dual civil-defence technology innovations are invited to exhibit in the SEAnnovation space. Covid-19 does not seem to have dampened enthusiasm for this initiative – 65 start-ups submitted their applications, and 36 start-ups have been selected. This will be an exceptional opportunity for them to gain visibility and present their projects to the world's shipbuilding industry.