Gobbling ‘American Pie’, Asian defense giant sells billions of dollars worth of advanced weapons to key US ally



Driven by the need to counter the perpetual threat posed by North Korea and the ambition to become Asia’s largest defense exporter, South Korea has established itself as a major defense player, attracting customers from as far away as Europe and the Middle East for its cutting-edge, cost-effective weapon cutters.

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From a previous high of $7.25 billion, South Korea’s defense export sales have already reached $15 billion this year. If the planned agreements with Australia, Malaysia, Norway and Saudi Arabia materialize, this figure could reach 20 billion dollars by the end of the year.

The number increasing significantly, as reported by the Korea Institute for Industrial Economics and Commerce, is no coincidence, analysts say, but the result of calculated political planning.

South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol recently announced his desire to see his country rank among the top four arms exporters in the world.

In a significant development worth examining, South Korea’s defense sales hinge on a European country’s decision to buy military hardware as the war with Ukraine drags on, causing military insecurity. excessive in the Eastern European region.

At a ceremony in Seoul on October 19, Poland received the first shipment of its new South Korean-made tanks and howitzers while signature a new arms contract with regional industry.

Polish MND Błaszczak at the K239 Chunmoo signing ceremony for the Polish Armed Forces – Polish National Defense

The Polish government delegation, led by Mariusz Baszczak, the country’s deputy prime minister and national defense minister, was due to arrive earlier on October 17 to witness the delivery of the first K2 Black Panther tanks and K9A1 Thunder self-propelled howitzers. as well as signing a new contract for the K239 Chunmoo rocket artillery system.

The visit was later canceled due to a technical malfunction of the aircraft, according to a statement from Poland. However, the news suggested that Chinese authorities refused to allow a Polish plane to travel through Chinese airspace, which is believed to be partly due to Seoul’s closer relationship and military cooperation with NATO countries.

That said, Seoul wins major contracts, including a $5.8 billion deal with Poland for Korea Aerospace Industries’ FA-50 fighter jets, Hyundai Rotem’s K2 Black Panther tanks, K9 Thunder howitzers and Hanwha Defense K10 supply trucks.

The Eastern European country, a major NATO member and which shares a border with the war-torn European country, has undoubtedly become the biggest customer of South Korean weapons systems. lately.

Poland is the engine of arms sales in Seoul and how!

The spokesperson for the Polish Armaments Agency said in a statement that 10 K2s and 24 K9A1s would be sent to Poland, which would allow crew training to begin in the European country.

The Hyundai Rotem K2 (Black Panther) is considered one of the best main battle tanks in the world (MBT). It competes with the German Leopard 2A7 for the Leopard 2A4 MBTs which the Norwegian army is replacing.

K2 Black Panther - Wikipedia
K2 Black Panther – Wikipedia

Additionally, one of the most advanced 155mm howitzers, the K9 Thunder, has been exported to some of the most powerful armies in the world including Australia, Turkey, India, Egypt, Poland , Finland, Norway and Estonia.

Black Panthers delivered to Poland will have German gears and Korean motors. In contrast, the Thunders will have American gears, German engines, and some Polish parts, like the Topaz integrated battle management system.

On August 26 this year, the MND of Poland signed executive agreements to deliver K2 Black Panther tanks and K9A1 Thunder self-propelled howitzers. Poland will spend around PLN 16 billion ($3.26 billion) to purchase 180 Korean-designed K2 tanks, ammunition, training and logistical support, with deliveries to be completed by 2025.

Additionally, the estimated price of 212 K9A1 howitzers plus ammunition, logistics, training and support package will be PLN 11.4 billion ($2.32 billion), with delivery expected to start in 2026.

File Image: K-9 Thunder

In addition, a framework agreement was signed between Poland and South Korea regarding the transfer of 288 K239 Chunmoo K-MLRS (Korean Multiple Launch Rocket System) systems to the Polish ground forces. The decision to purchase the Korean MLRS was made keeping in mind the inability of the United States to supply the country with HIMARS which was sent to Ukraine.

“In 2019, an agreement with the United States to acquire the HIMARS for the Polish Armed Forces was signed. The delivery of this equipment is scheduled for next year. We have submitted a request for larger deliveries, but unfortunately , due to limited industrial capacities, it will not be possible to deliver the equipment within a satisfactory period of time, therefore we have started talks with South Korea, our reliable partner, which resulted in the signing of a framework contract for the delivery of the K239 Chunmoo today,” Polish Minister of National Defense Błaszczak said at the ceremony.

Besides rocket systems, tanks and howitzers, Poland is also buying fighter jets from South Korea to replace its aging fleet of MiG-29 fighter jets. In July 2022, the Polish Air Force announced that it would replace Russian MiG-29 fighter jets with South Korean FA-50s.

At the time, the Polish Defense Ministry said later on Wednesday that South Korea would deliver 48 modernized aircraft for the needs of the Polish Air Force, with 12 fighters arriving by mid-2023, as previously noted by EurAsian Times.

FA-50 Fighting Eagle
An FA-50 Fighting Eagle. (Wikipedia)

The delivery of military equipment to Poland should be considered “the export of arms within the framework of bilateral relations between South Korea and Poland”, South Korean Foreign Minister Park Jin said during a meeting. a briefing in July, asked about Seoul’s growing influence in Ukraine. conflict and global security.

However, it is pertinent to note that with Western manufacturers busy serving the Ukrainian military as the war refuses to end and the Russian defense industry reeling from international sanctions, this is a golden opportunity. for Seoul’s defense makers to fill the void and sign new agreements.

By the end of 2022, the country’s defense exports are expected to increase nearly three times from 2020 levels, to $10 billion. South Korea accounted for 2.7% of global arms exports in 2016-2020, 210% more than in 2011-2015.

According to reports, the South Korean defense industry’s ability to create a range of military weapons tailored to the specific security challenges faced by each potential buyer has fueled the rise in the country’s defense exports.

Earlier, South Korea and the United Arab Emirates signed a contract in January to export the Cheongung II medium-range surface-to-air missile (M-SAM) system.

The deal was the largest arms export deal in the country’s history and was worth nearly $3.5 billion. Even the K9 Thunder beat French, Russian and Chinese courts to earn $1.7 billion Contract with Egypt in February.

Following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the South Korean defense sector is positioning itself as the ideal ally of Eastern European countries outside of North America. And, with its sales at gold prices, Poland has become the symbol of Seoul’s entry into the distant lands of Europe.

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