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Earlier this year we reported on the dismal attendance by exhibitors and attendees at the 2013 AUSA Winter conference—and our disappointment in the lack of support for their industry by many major primes. Either there has been an industry turn around seen by primes, or they’ve decided that failing to support their industry while still recording extremely good profits is not in their best interest. AUVSI’s Unmanned Systems North America 2013 reported an increase over last year’s conference to more than 600 exhibitors and over 8,100 attendees.

COTS Journal has strongly supported MILCOM for years and recently started to provide similar support to the AUVSI conference. Hurricane Sandy last year was not only a disaster by those that were hit by the storm, but also a devastating blow to MILCOM’s organizers, exhibitors and attendees when the conference had to be canceled. Seeing a positive outcome of this year’s AUVSI conference is a good sign that maybe this fall will be a good season for many military conferences. Sequestration and general military budget reductions have put a tight squeeze on conference attendance and travel by military personnel in general. Jeff Child, COTS Journal editor-in-chief, attended AUVSI in Washington DC this year and reported that there seemed to be fewer attendees in uniform than last year—however, the floor was very active and enthusiastic.

MILCOM 2013 in San Diego this November will be the real test. It not only has to come back from its cancellation last year, but also from the general cutbacks in military funding including travel. The one thing that MILCOM shares with this year’s highly successful AUVSI, which should be a positive sign for its success, is that it focuses on the same electronic technologies with the added exclamation where it bills itself as “Balancing Commercial and Defense Technologies.” Additionally, MILCOM should benefit from the shift in focus for the military to a greater emphasis on electronic warfare (EW). Unless the MILCOM governing board is not in touch with the military’s future direction, it will broaden its stated “communication” focus to include all the technologies that are key to what has recently been called “spectrum warfare”—EW, cyber warfare, photonic/optical warfare, navigational warfare and others.

The key to any conference’s success is its relevance and providing essential information that cannot easily be obtained elsewhere. That information has to be presented in an atmosphere of intellectual interchange. In the current military budget climate, with the heavy emphasis on electronics, both MILCOM and AUVSI have achieved those goals. In contrast, AUSA and other military conferences with a strong focus on tactical hardware may be coming less relevant and be in for difficult times.

Although the military electronics industry has been hit by budget reductions, there is a need to move ahead with product development, and validating the products being developed will be relevant in the changing military climate. This type of information cannot realistically be obtained through the Internet, it requires interaction between many sources to ensure that sufficient data is obtained prior to making a determination. Conferences provide a venue for a global view of what other industry participants are doing, and in many cases conferences are the initiation point of developing a relationship with parties that can assist in involvement in future programs.