Located in a part of the world with numerous and evolving security challenges not least North Korea, an aggressive neighbor with nuclear weapons and the largest per capita standing army in the world, South Korea has earned a solid reputation as a high quality military equipment manufacturer for land, air, sea and space, and could in a near future have the Argentine Air Force as one of its clients..
No wonder then it has just concluded the largest military export deal in its history: the country signed a deal to sell Poland 1,000K2 battle tanks, along with 648 self-propelled howitzers and 48 FA-50 fighter jets, with the governments in both Seoul and Warsaw expressing hopes for further cooperation in the security sphere.
The agreement is worth an estimated 20 trillion won (€15 billion, US$15.3 billion). The first batch of 180 K2 tanks is scheduled to be delivered to the Polish armed forces this year, with analysts pointing out that this will more than compensate for the 240 tanks that Poland provided to Ukraine to help contain the Russian invasion that took off in February
We want peace so we must prepare for war. The Polish armed forces should be so strong that an aggressor cannot decide to attack, Mariusz Blaszczak, the Polish deputy prime minister and minister of defense, said at the signing ceremony of the deal. Blaszczak added. The Korean weapon system was the most suitable considering the technology, price and the time of introduction.
He stressed that the deal is just the first stage of the two countries' cooperation.
South Korea sold weapons worth US$7 billion last year, which was a record high for the country, and the figure is expected to hit US$10 billion this year.
Foreign governments see South Korean military equipment as reliable and as technologically advanced, yet not nearly as expensive as systems developed by other nations like the US.
A FA-50 fighter, for example, is likely to cost around US$ 30 million, significantly cheaper than a US-made F-35, which costs at least US$ 77 million for a basic model.
A K2 Black Panther tank weighs 54 tons, has a 120 mm auto-loaded main gun composite armor and integral missile defense systems. It has an off-road top speed of 50 kilometers per hour cross and a range of 450 kilometers.
Both Norway and Egypt are also considering purchasing the tanks, which are the mainstay of the South Korean military.
The K9 Thunder is a self-propelled howitzer with a gun that can hurl a round up to 40 kilometers and a rate of fire of up to eight shots a minute. Weighing in at 47 tons, it has already been sold to Estonia, Norway, Poland, Turkey, Finland, Australia and India.
The third system that Poland is purchasing is the FA-50 Golden Eagle, a light combat jet jointly developed by Korea Aerospace Industries and Lockheed Martin of the US. Although not the most advanced fighter deployed, it can carry out combat missions, reconnaissance and training missions, with a top speed of 1,837 kilometers per hour.
To date, South Korean aircraft — both fixed-wing and helicopters — have been sold to the Philippines, Iraq, Indonesia, Thailand, Turkey, Senegal and Peru, while Argentina, Malaysia, Colombia and India have expressed interest in some systems.
Warships and submarines launched at South Korean dockyards have gone on to serve in the navies of Thailand, the Philippines and New Zealand, while tankers have been made for the navies of Britain (Royal Fleet Auxiliary) and Norway.
Uruguay could also be a potential client. In the last budget it has earmarked 100 million dollars for the purchase of two OPV, Ocean Patrol Vessels, new or second hand. China has already showed an interest, and is currently in discussions for a free trade accord with Uruguay and has become the country's main trading partner.
South Korea in the meantime has donated the Uruguayan Coast Guard a 170 ton coastal patrol vessel, Chamsuri Class, PKM 301 from 1989. This obviously will also help lobbying for the sale of South Korean new OPV to the Uruguayan navy.
The K9 Thunder is South Korea's best-selling military ground vehicle, with units being sold to India, Australia, Egypt and Norway.
A number of other countries are reportedly interested in acquiring the weapons, including Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Romania and Great Britain. The K2 tank has also been sold to Oman and serves as the basis for Turkey's Altay tank, while Australia is testing a variant of the K21 infantry fighting vehicle, with Canberra looking to buy no fewer than 450 units to replace its aging armored personnel carriers.
It is not the most advanced in the world, but it is competitive on price and comes with good quality. For middle-ranked powers, which are constantly required to achieve a trade-off between cost and effectiveness, South Korean military equipment is seen as a good choice.