The New York Times reported that South Korea’s arms exports rose 140% to a record $17.3 billion in 2022. These defense export volumes include deals worth $12.4 billion in sales to Poland, as it maintains a precarious balance between its unwavering ties to Washington and its own economic and national interests.
The report further states that South Korea has maintained a strong domestic military supply chain to meet demand from its armed forces and to defend against North Korea, unlike American allies in Europe who reduced their militaries and arms production facilities at the end of the Cold War.
According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), South Korea saw the highest growth among the top 25 global arms exporters from 2017 to 2021, coming in at No. 8 with a 2.8% market share.
The largest defense contractor in South Korea, Hanwha Aerospace, is busier than ever and intends to triple its manufacturing capacity by the end of the year.
Since the Russian-Ukrainian war, serious production problems for rocket launchers and other weapons have plagued arms suppliers like the United States. It has been difficult for Germany and other major arm-producing European states to get enough tanks to dispatch to Ukraine.
This is where South Korea’s burgeoning arms production started garnering the global limelight. South Korea became a tempting alternative as countries in Eastern Europe raced to re-equip and modernize their forces after sending their Soviet-era weapons to Ukraine.
South Korea’s whopping $17.3 billion defense export in 2022 could be credited to its expanding defense ties with Ukraine’s closest neighbor and ally in Europe, Poland.
Last year, Poland signed an agreement with South Korea to purchase hundreds of K2 tanks, K9 Howitzers, and several Chunmoo Multiple Launch Rocket Systems (MLRS) as part of a large-scale military modernization triggered by the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the EurAsian Times reported.
To Poland’s delight and the world’s intrigue, the South Korean defense industry delivered the first shipment of these tanks and howitzers within months of placing the order.
As previously reported by EurAsian Times, Polish President Andrzej Duda and the country’s Defense Minister received the first shipment of tanks and howitzers from South Korea on December 7, 2022.
It was a win-win situation for both countries as the massive Polish order came as a path-breaking opportunity for the Asian defense manufacturer. This was in line with South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol’s efforts, who has vowed to make his country the fourth-largest weapons exporter by 2027, after the US, Russia, and France.
Besides the ground-based platforms earmarked for Poland, South Korea reached a landmark deal to sell FA-50 Light attack aircraft to the East European country. Now, speculations are rife that Poland might also consider acquiring the South Korean KF-21 semi-stealth supersonic fighter jet.
Going by these trends, the task is cut out for the South Korean defense industry in the ongoing year after promising export volumes registered in 2022. As the Ukraine war refuses to end, the demand for South Korean weapons that are believed to be more cost-effective, delivered in record-breaking time, and offered with the possibility of joint production, is expected to see another uptick.
According to reports, South Korea’s defense industry’s capacity to create a range of military weapons tailored to the specific security difficulties faced by each potential buyer has fueled the country’s increase in defense exports.
More importantly, South Korea has indirectly supported Ukraine without fueling Russian contempt.