By Scott Taylor
For the fifth year in a row London, Ontario has hosted the two-day Best Defence Conference to showcase the vast capabilities of Southern Ontario’s high-tech defence-related industries.
Originally staged under the auspices of the London Economic Development Corporation (LEDC), Best Defence was always the brainchild of the ubiquitous Heather Pilot. This year marked the first time that Pilot, who split from LEDC, coordinated the conference under her own Pilot Hill Ltd. brand.
Over the years the show has grown from what started as essentially a networking opportunity, to what is now a hybrid tradeshow and educational conference. True to its roots, the socializing aspect remains one of the key reasons that Best Defence attracts a steadily increasing number of attendees. This year there were over 300 registered participants and a total of 65 exhibitors.
Like the guest list, the format also continues to expand, with the addition of sessions and tours on the afternoon of November 8, before the traditional kick-off cocktail reception. Buses were provided to shuttle registered participants to the Canadian Centre for Product Validation (CCPV) for a tour of their new 25,000 square-foot facility, which houses state-of-the-art validation technologies and equipment. Given that CCPV is a subsidiary of Fanshaw College, it wasn’t a surprise to see former Canadian Army commander Lieutenant-General Peter Devlin in attendance at the General Dynamics Land Systems–Canada kick-off party. Devlin is now the much-respected president of Fanshaw College, but he is never out of the military loop. It was Devlin’s task to introduce the keynote speaker and current Chief of Force Development at NDHQ, Rear Admiral Darren Hawco. Although Hawco’s lengthy presentation curtailed the networking process, his insights were nonetheless eagerly absorbed by the industry reps in attendance.
The second and main day of Best Defence began with a 7:00 am breakfast courtesy of Armatec Survivability and Gowling WLG. As usual, there were more than a few sets of bloodshot eyes among the early risers, as many of the participants used the kick-off party as a springboard to a night on the town in London. The morning sessions included presentations on naval requirements, next-generation military vehicles; a panel on future warfare capability requirements and, after a coffee break, a second panel on future technology trends and existing gaps.
Lunch was provided courtesy of CCPV. During dessert the Honourable John McKay, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of National Defence, delivered the keynote speech. The single afternoon session was a technology showcase that allowed innovative high-tech companies to each give a four-minute pitch. By the time the clock struck 4:00 pm, it was time for the closing reception.
Despite the change in the management structure, Best Defence once again lived up to its name. They say the devil is in the details and, in this case, Heather Pilot proved superb, from little things like having large print, double-sided name tags to the cleverly designed site map and schedule. Esprit de Corps has already blocked off November 1–2, 2017 in the planning calendar to attend next year’s, undoubtedly even better, Best Defence Conference.