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South Korea increases arms sales to record high

By YANG HAN in Hong Kong | China Daily Global | Updated: 2022-11-14 10:09

South Korea has signed an arms sale deal with Poland that brings its arms exports to a new high, and experts foresee it further sharpening its competitive advantage to achieve its goal of becoming one of the world's top four weapons suppliers.

The country has found a competitive niche through the contract with Poland, said Go Myong-hyun, a senior fellow at the Asan Institute for Policy Studies in Seoul, because it can provide cutting-edge weapons systems in quantity, quality and within a short time frame.

"Other traditionally well-known military weapons systems suppliers have neglected the production of land systems in favor of sea-based or air-based systems," Go said.

South Korea's Hanwha Aerospace Co signed a $3.55 billion deal with Poland on Nov 4 to export Chunmoo 230 millimeter multiple launch rocket systems, according to the Defense Acquisition Program Administration of the South Korean Ministry of National Defense.

The agreement was signed as a follow-up on a framework contract signed last month.

It raised South Korea's total arms exports this year to $17 billion, compared with last year's $7.25 billion, and marked an all-time high in the country's annual weapons exports, according to the ministry. The contract with Poland accounts for $12.4 billion of the total.

In August, South Korea exported 980 K2 main battle tanks and 648 K9 howitzers. The following month the country also exported 48 FA-50 light attack aircraft to Poland.

Eom Dong-hwan, minister of the Defense Acquisition Program Administration, said the export of Chunmoo multiple launch rocket systems is another key achievement of cooperation between defense companies and the government.

Strategic industry

The rapid growth in South Korea's defense exports this year was a result of the strong will of President Yoon Suk-yeol's administration to foster the defense sector as a national strategic industry that will promote the growth of future competitiveness, the ministry said.

In August, Yoon said that he aims to push South Korea into becoming one of the top four global arms exporters and turn the defense industry into a strategic powerhouse.

South Korea is now the world's eighth-largest arms exporter, after the United States, Russia, France, China, Germany, Italy and the United Kingdom, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. It held a 2.8 percent share in the global arms export market in the 2017-21 period.

The size of the contract with Poland is greatly significant to South Korea's arms exports, said Lee Sang-ho, an international politics and strategy professor at South Korea's Daejeon University. He said he expects to see more European countries favoring South Korean defense supplies owing to their cost effectiveness.

For example, Norway signed an option contract with Hanwha Aerospace to purchase four more K9 self-propelled howitzers and eight ammunition resupply vehicles for delivery over the next two years, South Korea's Aju Business Daily reported on Tuesday.

Lee said South Korea's arms exports are more about business than politics because the country hopes to maximize and capitalize on the potential of this industry, which has proved to be a surprising and very lucrative export opportunity.

South Korea's overall exports shrank 5.7 percent from a year earlier to $52.48 billion in October, its first export decline since October 2020, according to data released on Nov 1.

Go, of the Asan Institute for Policy Studies, said the challenge for South Korea is clear as traditional weapons export powerhouses.

"It looks like it is going to take a while, and there is no certainty regarding whether this demand we are seeing right now will remain in the future," Go said.

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