As part of the largest military export deal in its history, South Korea agreed to sell Poland about 1,000 K2 tanks, as well as 648 self-propelled howitzers and 48 FA-50 fighters, while the governments of Seoul and Warsaw expressed hope for further security cooperation.
The agreement was signed on July 27 and the transaction amount is about 20 trillion won (15 billion euros. – Red.), although the exact figure has not yet been agreed, as negotiations continue on the licensed production of tanks and howitzers in Poland.
Nevertheless, the first batch of 180 K2 tanks is planned to be delivered to the Polish armed forces this year, and analysts say that they are more than compensates for 240 combat vehicles Soviet-style, which Poland has already provided to Ukraine to fight the Russian invasion.
“We want peace, so we must prepare for war. The Polish armed forces must be so strong that the aggressor could not decide to attack,” Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Defense of Poland Mariusz Blaszczak said at the contract signing ceremony. The politician pointed out that Korean weapons were the most suitable for Poland “taking into account the technology, price and time required for their development.” This deal is “only the first stage of cooperation between the two countries,” Blaschak added.
What is driving South Korean defense exports?
Last year, South Korea sold $7 billion worth of weapons, which was a record for the country. This year, this figure is expected to reach $10 billion.
The government and defense manufacturers are interested in increasing foreign sales to generate funds that can be used to develop more advanced weapons and strengthen their position as one of the world’s leading arms manufacturers.
In turn, foreign countries consider South Korean military equipment reliable and technologically advanced, but not as expensive as systems developed by other countries, in particular the United States. For example, the KAI T-50 fighter (another name for the FA-50) will most likely cost about $30 million, which is significantly cheaper than the American F-35 (at least $77 million in the base configuration. – Red.).
All details of the agreement with Poland were not disclosed, but it is expected that the purchase of such a batch will give Warsaw the opportunity to maneuver with regard to the final price.
The deal also includes lucrative licenses to manufacture tanks and howitzers in Poland, while Korea Aerospace Industries hopes to set up a maintenance and repair facility in Poland. It also intends to open an FA-50 pilot training school to showcase the aircraft to more potential buyers in Europe.
Record arms deal
Being in close proximity to North Korea – a warlike neighbor with nuclear weapons, South Korean developers have earned a good reputation for the quality of the weapons they produce.
The K2 Black Panther tank weighs 54 tons, has a 120mm autoloading main gun, composite armor and built-in missile defense systems. The maximum off-road speed is 50 kilometers per hour, the cruising range is 450 kilometers. The possibility of acquiring tanks, which are the basis of the South Korean armed forces, is currently being considered by Norway and Egypt.
The K9 Thunder is a self-propelled howitzer with a range of up to 40 km and a rate of fire of up to eight rounds per minute. It weighs 47 tons and has already been sold to Estonia, Norway, Poland, Turkey, Finland, Australia and India.
Finally, Poland is acquiring the KAI T-50 Golden Eagle supersonic jet combat aircraft, developed jointly by Korea Aerospace Industries and Lockheed Martin from the United States. Although it is not the most modern fighter, it can perform combat, reconnaissance and training tasks, and its maximum speed is 1,837 kilometers per hour.
Exceptional quality and competitive price
The first FA-50s are due to arrive in Poland in early 2023. According to Blaszczak, they will replace the fleet of Russian-made MiG fighters in the Polish Air Force, for which it is currently impossible to get spare parts.
“The quality and competitiveness of South Korea’s defense companies are exceptional, and the Polish government clearly recognizes this,” said Park Jung-won, professor of law at South Korea’s Dankuk University.
“Our country has faced so many military problems over the years that the weapons that our army uses must be very good. Poland considers them, in fact, as field-tested,” he said.
According to Park Joon Won, while the government in Seoul is certainly sympathetic to Ukraine’s plight, it cannot directly provide Kyiv with lethal weapons. The best thing, in this case, is to replenish and renew the reserves of a neighbor who has already come to the aid of Ukraine.
A new leader in defense exports?
To date, South Korean combat aircraft – both airplanes and helicopters – are operated by the Philippines, Iraq, Indonesia, Thailand, Turkey, Senegal and Peru. Interest in some of them is shown by Argentina, Malaysia, Colombia and India.
Warships and submarines launched at South Korean shipyards serve in the Thai, Philippine and New Zealand navies, while tankers have been built for the armed forces of Britain and Norway.
K9 Thunder is the best-selling South Korean ground artillery system. It was bought in India, Australia, Egypt and Norway. A number of other countries are reportedly interested in acquiring these weapons, including Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Romania and the UK.
The K2 tank has also been sold to Oman and serves as the basis for the Turkish Altay tank, and Australia is testing a variant of the K21 infantry fighting vehicle, with Canberra intending to purchase at least 450 units to replace its aging armored personnel carriers. It is not the most advanced machine in the world, but it is competitive in price and has good quality.
For those countries that constantly have to compromise between cost and efficiency, South Korean weapons are considered a good choice.