South Korean Defense Industry is the leading supplier of weaponry for the Republic of Korea Armed Forces. South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol said he wants to become one of the top four suppliers of armament in the world.

The South Korean arms trade was also strengthened by Poland’s recent purchase of 1,000 tanks, more than 600 pieces of artillery, and a couple of dozen fighter jets. This will reportedly replace weapons Poland has sent to Ukraine, according to the Polish Ministry of Defense.

This deal includes 980 tanks of the South Korean K2 mode, 48 FA-50 fighter jets, and 648 self-propelled K9 armored howitzers.

“By entering the world’s top four defense exporters after the United States, Russia, and France, the (South Korean) defense industry will become a strategic industrialization and a defense powerhouse,” Yoon said at the presidential office.

K2 black panther
K2 Black Panther tank on display at ADEX 2013. (Source: Simta/Wikimedia)

South Korean K2 “Black Panther” is a next-generation battle tank manufactured by Hyundai Rotem. They were made to replace the M48 Patton tanks that were used by the South Korean Military. It costs about $8.5 million per unit, and it’s definitely worth the price.

The K2 is 35ft. 5 in long and has a 7.5-meter chassis. It can seat up to 3 crew members (ideally one commander, one gunner, and one driver). It houses 120 mm 55 caliber guns, 12.7x99mm K6 heavy machine guns, and 7.62x51mm NATO coaxial machine gun.

The ministry said they’re optimistic that K2 would replace the Soviet-era tanks Ukraine is using to fight Russian forces. Polish Defense Minister Mariusz Błaszczak also noted that this donation would “significantly increase Poland’sPoland’s security and the strength of the Polish Army.”

Retired South Korean General Chun In-Bum confirmed that this is South Korea’s largest weapons deal so far. In 2021, the country ranked 10th in the world weapons exports, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI). With S. Korea’s current trajectory, SIPRY’s trend-indicator value monitoring system expects to place them in at least the top five slot by the end of the year (just behind Italy, which sold $1.7 billion worth of arms export last year).

South Korean Soldiers in the 631st Field Artillery Battalion, 26th Mechanized Infantry Division Artillery, coordinate fires from a battery of six K9 Thunder 155 mm self-propelled howitzers May 10, in a joint artillery exercise with Soldiers from the U.S. Army 1st Battalion, 82nd Field Artillery Regiment, 1st Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division. (Source: Defense Visual Information Distribution Service/getarchive)

“The K9 (howitzer)… is among the best artillery system in the world, rivaled only by the German system. The FA-50 is a combat version of the T-50, which has gained a reputation for being the best trainer in the world inventory. The K2 tank in its latest version will be better than anything South Korea has to date,” Chun said.

Last year, S. Korea’s weapons export hit a new record selling about $7 billion worth of artillery and firearms. This is 177 percent higher than their 2012-2016 period, and they’re now slowly catching up to Australia and France.

As of writing, S. Korea sits at the eighth ranking of the world’s largest arms exporter, standing second in Asia, just right after China. This is an impressive acceleration compared to their 31st ranking back in 2000, according to another SIPRI report.

“Exports of naval vessels grew by 1,660 percent (during the 2017-21 period compared to 2012-16), which led the trend,” the report says. “Arms exports are estimated to continue to grow. The number is expected to reach US$10 billion in 2022.”

Indonesia and the Philippines are South Korea’s biggest buyers, accounting for about 14 percent and 16 percent of their sales, respectively.

Back in January, S. Korea also penned a deal with the United Arab Emirates to sell their Cheongung-II, another development by the Agency for Defence Development (ADD).

S. Korea is also working with Australia to boost their naval prowess, delivering the country’s latest KSS-III conventionally-powered submarines manufactured by Daewoo Shipbuilding and Marine Engineering, and Hyundai Heavy Industries.

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In addition to the weaponry cited above, S. Korea is also looking to sell its high-end KF-21 fighter jets around Southeast Asia. The KAI KF-21 Boramae (formerly called KF-X) is manufactured in partnership with Indonesia that boasts of a stealthier airframe.

Weapons partnership is also a sign of exceptional multinational relations. One of the reasons why these countries trust South Korean artillery is because of their long-standing friction with North Korea and its ability to keep its military advantage over the years. The same goes for Poland.

“Why is Korean equipment proven? Because Korea has the challenge of its northern neighbor, who also conducts an aggressive policy, so our task is to equip the Polish Armed Forces with modern equipment. Equipment that will deter the aggressor. Such equipment is undoubtedly … produced in Korea,” Błaszczak said.