Leigh Munsil, Politico
15 April 2015
The Navy League’s Sea-Air-Space Exhibition has a different look these days.
In its 50th year, the annual trade show still features massive displays from the usual defense industry suspects – Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Northrop Grumman – and the nation’s largest shipbuilders, like Huntington Ingalls, General Dynamics and Austal.
But now, services contractors and information technology firms are interspersed with top vehicle and weapons builders – a concrete example of the changes within the industry that supports the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps itself.
“We used to be a shipbuilding show,” said Kevin Traver, the Navy League’s vice president for corporate affairs and membership. “We have worked very hard over the last five years to get enterprise-wide across the services, so we’re seeing the Ciscos and the Black Boxes and the folks like that – cyber and technical folks are starting to come to our show and see that is has value because we made it a focus.”
The Navy League doesn’t release the number of vendors or attendees at its exhibition at National Harbor, Md., but a quick count found about 250 booths on the trade floor, including vendors and government displays. Fifty-two more companies were at the trade show this year than last, Traver said, and registration is up 29 percent.
Sea-Air-Space is growing as shipbuilding is shrinking, Traver said – and focusing on issues like new technology and cybersecurity is intentional.
“We had to,” he said. There aren’t that many shipbuilders left. If you’re a shipbuilding show, you’re in a lot of trouble.”
Cisco, the San Jose, Calif.-based IT firm and builder of networking equipment, works with the Navy on all sorts of systems for ships and unmanned vehicles. The company has been invited to Sea-Air-Space for years, but this was the first time it came.
“One of the reasons that we came was because they were broadening it out – to be more from an IT technology perspective,” said Nancy Mack, a public sector marketing manager for Cisco. “They always had technology, it just wasn’t an IT technology or a services perspective.”
The plethora of service members at the exhibition has offered opportunities for Cisco to explain what it does for the Navy. The company’s booth has a model ship in front, which drew a lot of attention.
“They’ll come up and they go, ‘Oh, does Cisco build ships?’” Mack said. “No, but we put a lot of stuff inside those ships.”
Another expanding Navy League area focuses on attracting international contingents – so much so that the exhibition is considering a new name, Traver said.
“Last year we had five [foreign delegations]. This year we had 16, including eight heads of Navy,” he said. “So that’s significant, and I think we’re at a tipping point ... We’re thinking of changing the name next year to Sea-Air-Space Global or something like that.”
The direction to internationalize Sea-Air-Space came directly from U.S. Navy leaders like Sean Stackley, the assistant secretary of the Navy for research, development and acquisition, Traver said. Bringing foreign defense customers and partners to Washington is a boon for U.S. contractors, he added, and it saves the Navy money in tight times.
Attracting more international heads of Navy is a big undertaking, Traver said. The first invitations went out last August, and Navy League staff followed up repeatedly. But it paid off.
An International Naval Leadership panel on Monday featured Adm. George Zambellas of the British Royal Navy, Adm. Bernard Rogel of France, Adm. Tomohisa Takei of Japan, Vice Adm. T.W. Barrett of Australia, Adm. Hernando Wills Velez of Colombia, Rear Adm. Lai Chung Han of Singapore and Rear Adm. Alexandru Mirsu of Romania.
Joe Murray, a senior account manager with Xerox, stood in front of a fax-and-copy machine in a small booth across from General Dynamics’ imposing shipbuilding display. This is the second year Xerox, which is involved with Navy IT contracts like digitizing paper records, has been at Sea-Air-Space, he said.
“Instead of selling the features of the product, I actually try to talk to the Navy customers and find out what their business processes are so that I can incorporate our solutions into their business processes,” Murray said. “There are a lot of things done by hand that could be done by some sort of automated process.”
The Navy League provides transportation to the exhibition from nearby military installations, Murray said, which makes the attendees more diverse than the Navy officials he usually interacts with.
And for those attendees, it’s not all about ships.
“They’re going to talk to the booth next door about, you know, a submarine or something like that,” he said. “Well, they’ve got to put a printer on board that submarine.”