South Korea last Tuesday announced a $3.2 billion deal to export 10 batteries of M-SAM2 Cheongung missile defense systems to Saudi Arabia, a system developed since 2012 by LIG Nex1 and the Agency for Defense Development, designed for mid-range, mid-altitude interception at 30-40 kilometers. (Ministry of National Defense)
South Korea secured its place among the world's top 10 defense exporters for the second consecutive year in 2023 with approximately $14 billion in exports, anticipating continued demand this year bolstered by substantial deals already in place.
Data from the Korean Ministry of National Defense and domestic defense companies published on Monday show that Korea, ranking ninth globally behind Spain, expanded its export markets to 12 countries last year, including new partners like the United Arab Emirates, Finland and Norway, up from four countries in 2022. The variety of weapon systems exported also doubled.
This expansion is part of South Korea's goal to rank as one of the top four global defense exporters by 2027, aiming to secure over a 5 percent share of the worldwide defense export market, up from the current 2.4 percent.
Key to Korea's defense export boom has been several large-scale contracts, most notably a $12.4 billion deal with Poland in 2022. This contract alone, which was made in response to the heightened defense needs following Russia's invasion of Ukraine, accounts for more than 35 percent of South Korea's annual defense spending for that year.
The momentum continued early this year, with LIG Nex1 announcing a $3.2 billion agreement with Saudi Arabia for the M-SAM2 ballistic missile interceptor system last Tuesday.
Hanwha Aerospace, which has the largest order backlog among global defense companies, anticipates billions of dollars in new orders this year. The company's order backlog skyrocketed six-fold from $2.4 billion to $15.2 billion in the last two years. Negotiations are underway for exporting K-9 self-propelled artillery to Romania and multiple launch rocket systems to Poland, among other deals.
Furthermore, Korea Aerospace Industries and Hyundai Rotem are also expecting significant orders, with KAI in talks with Egypt and European countries for aircraft exports, and Hyundai Rotem finalizing agreements for the export of K-2 tanks to Poland.
Despite these successes, challenges remain for the government, particularly in improving the export finance support system -- providing export credit, insurance, financial guarantees, risk management and more -- in order to unlock the potential for more large-scale exports.
By Moon Joon-hyun (firstname.lastname@example.org)