South Korea is emerging as an arms exporter in its own right which may one day overtake China in Asia and several European countries.
While American defence technology denial to Seoul may have dominated headlines last week, what is significant is that Seoul has exported or is pitching for contracts to supply ships, aircraft, artillery systems to several customers in Asia, Africa, Latin America and Middle East.
According to an estimate by IHS Janes, South Korea exported US$740 million worth arms in 2014. These estimates hide several potential big ticket deals which Korean companies are working on with international customers.
Seoul’s export successes have been in countries which have been traditional customers of China or Russia. But Unlike China or Russia, it is not hampered by western military sanctions and can have joint ventures with companies in Europe and the U.S.
It recently won a deal for artillery systems in partnership with India’s L & T defeating a bid by Rosoboronexport. Seoul has sold training and light combat aircraft T-50 to Indonesia, Iraq, the Philippines and Thailand.
It is using the partnership route to acquire western technology and develop its own products. It has developed the Surion helicopter in partnership with Airbus Helicopters. Originally meant for S.Korea’s military and civil programs, the Surion is currently meeting domestic requirement and its manufacturer, Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI) is expected to ramp up international marketing from 2017 onwards.
In Colombia, Seoul sold anti-ship missiles derived from US Boeing Harpoon program. A South Korean proposal was cleared in India as part of the tender on short-range anti-aircraft missiles SHORAD (Short Range Air Defense).
South Korea is an Asian leader in terms of naval shipbuilding. Companies such as Daewoo Shipbuilding & Marine Engineering (DSME), Hyundai Heavy Industries (HHI), Hanjin Heavy Industries & Construction (HHIC) and STX Offshore & Shipbuilding have constructed sophisticated naval vessels such as the KDX-3 Aegis destroyers, Type 214 submarines, and LPX amphibious vessels.
The country’s planners have targeted naval ships for export due to its high value-add. South Korea wants to be a leader in naval shipbuilding by 2020.