Showcasing everything from virtual fighter jets to virtual surgery, Central Florida defense contractors cast a wider net Tuesday to haul in new customers at the country's largest military-training trade show.
With U.S. military agencies battling major budget cuts, defense contractors from Orlando and across the country used the annual trade show to court potential customers from abroad, as well as to shore up their connections to the U.S. Department of Defense.
As many as 17,000 military and industry officials were expected to attend the event, which runs through Thursday at the Orange County Convention Center. Although attendance appeared to dip from previous years — the result of Pentagon budget cuts — the show had 550 exhibitors, including about 75 from Central Florida, considered the country's largest cluster of simulation-training operations.
Officials from more than 70 countries are also attending the show, many of them leading exhibits on the convention floor, organizers said.
Intelligent Decisions Inc.'s Orlando training unit said it planned to meet with a number of international officials at the trade show, known as the Interservice/Industry Training, Simulation & Education Conference, or I/ITSEC.
"We are just now launching our international business in South America, Central America, the Middle East and Europe," said Clarence Pape, Intelligent Decisions' vice president for training and simulation. "We've already taken small, but definite, steps in that direction, and we're using this show to expand that effort."
Given the budget constraints, it is clear that fewer military officials are attending this year's ITSEC, Pape said. Still, through a little advance work, the company also set up a number of meetings with military decision-makers who are attending the event, he said.
Local training-industry experts said the budget crisis has caused many simulation contractors to look to alternative markets to buoy their sales.
"Everyone sees and understands what is happening with the defense budget, with sequestration on top of the billions in other spending cuts that were previously planned for the next decade," said Tom Baptiste, president of the National Center for Simulation, an Orlando-based industry group.
"That has basically forced defense companies to look elsewhere to develop their business," he said. "In some cases, that will mean international markets. In other cases, it will mean doing business with other government agencies, such as FEMA and the Department of Transportation."
Waymon Armstrong, chief executive officer of Orlando-based Engineering & Computer Simulations Inc., said his company has three bid proposals being considered by international customers and hopes to add more as a result of the trade show.
"There is a lot of uncertainty about U.S. military spending, though we do hope that will be resolved in the coming year," he said. "Meanwhile, we obviously have to develop other lines of business."
Lockheed Martin Corp.'s Orlando simulation unit, which already has a thriving international business, expects to expand that effort, said Jon Rambeau, vice president and general manager. For example, the company now provides training systems to non-defense civil aviation customers abroad, primarily by working with its subsidiary in the Netherlands.
"Lockheed Martin works well in highly regulated markets; we obviously are looking to diversify the business in a disciplined way," he said. "So looking to other regulated industries is a wise move for us and what led us to civil aviation."
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