Speeding tanks, booming howitzers, shaking bones: This is how South Korea sells weapons

With a blinding yellow flash and a concussion that shakes bones, K9 self-propelled howitzers launch artillery shells onto a hill that’s simply been hit by rockets fired from helicopters. Then K2 tanks roar in, dashing up roads and firing as they go.

This is a part of DX Korea, a four-day South Korean protection expo held in September at a firing vary in Pocheon, about 30 kilometers (18.6 miles) from the North Korean border.

The show – offered to a crowd of two,000 individuals together with navy officers from greater than two dozen international locations – is a technique South Korea sells weapons.

And President Yoon Suk Yeol needs to promote extra of them – sufficient for Seoul to jump four places up the ranks to become the world’s fourth-biggest arms exporter.

“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 stated.

To do this, South Korea should outsell – in ascending order – the United Kingdom, Italy, Germany and eventually China, which held 4.6% of the export market within the 2017-2021 interval, in accordance with the authoritative Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI).

That’s no simple job, but Seoul is already properly on its means. From 2012 to 2016, it had simply 1% of the worldwide market. It greater than doubled that within the following five-year interval, capturing 2.8% – by far the most important enhance amongst any of the world’s high 25 arms exporters.

In 2021, it bought $7 billion value of weapons abroad, in accordance with the Export-Import Bank of Korea.

And the South Korean protection business believes it has the arsenal to seize a fair larger slice of the pie.

South Korea’s weapons exports have ballooned in recent times, however the nation has been constructing its arms business for many years, spurred on by its troubled relationship with its northern neighbor.

As of 2020, navy expenditures represented 2.8% of South Korea’s gross home product, in accordance with SIPRI, properly above the two% threshold thought of a minimal by many US allies.

“The North Korean threat has given us a good reason, a motivation to make sure that our weapons are very good,” says Chun In-bum, a former lieutenant basic within the South Korean Army.

Technically, the Korean War by no means ended, as a result of the doc that stopped the fight in 1953 was an armistice, not a peace treaty.

In the primary many years after the combating ended, South Korea’s protection was closely depending on American troops and weaponry.

Things started to vary within the Seventies, when the US was distracted by the struggle in Vietnam and the Cold War with the Soviet Union.

South Korea started to take extra duty for its personal protection and invested $42 million in US navy support in factories to supply M-16 rifles, in accordance with the Korea Development Institute (KDI).

By the tip of the last decade, Korean researchers below the course of the nation’s National Defense Science Institute had succeeded in making all fundamental weaponry, in accordance with a 2014 KDI report.

With the ever-present threats from the North, Seoul initiated a National Defense Tax to pay for the event of a contemporary navy, together with the armored programs and different navy gear that Korean protection corporations are advertising and marketing at the moment.

Back on the hillside after the live-fire demonstration, potential clients listened intently to the pitches of the South Korean representatives.

Delegations had arrived from as far afield as Mexico, Thailand, Nigeria and the Philippines. An Indian basic requested for the ranges of a weapon on show. Qatari officers inspected a K2 up shut.

Conspicuously, not one of the potential clients had been from Ukraine.

But that doesn’t imply South Korea’s arms business isn’t seeing a task in Ukraine’s struggle with Russia.

A US protection official instructed CNN this month that Washington intends to purchase 100,000 rounds of artillery ammunition from South Korean arms producers to supply to Ukraine.

The rounds will probably be transferred to Ukraine through the US, permitting Seoul to stay to its public pledge that it could not ship deadly support to the war-torn nation.

In a press release issued after the deliberate buy was first revealed in The Wall Street Journal, the South Korean Defense Ministry stated it had not modified its place on delivery weapons to Ukraine, and that it believed the “end user” of the ammunition was the US.

Russian President Vladimir Putin had stated late final month that South Korea had determined to ship “arms and ammunition” to Kyiv, which might “ruin our relations” with them – a declare denied a day later by President Yoon.

A South Korean presidential decree that enforces the nation’s Foreign Trade Act says its exports can solely be used for “peaceful purposes” and “shall not affect international peace, safety maintenance, and national security.”

South Korea is additionally a signatory to the United Nations’ Arms Trade Treaty, ratified in 2014 with the intention of retaining shut management on who will get weapons and below what situations they can be utilized. Ukraine is a signatory however hasn’t ratified it.

But the deliberate US ammunition switch isn’t the one means the affect of South Korea’s arms business will probably be felt in Ukraine.

In September, South Korea signed a cope with Poland for its largest arms sale ever, through which it’ll provide Warsaw with nearly 1,000 of Hyundai Rotem’s K2 tanks, greater than 600 of Hanwha’s K9s, and dozens of fighter jets from Korean Aerospace Industries.

The deal will allow Poland to interchange most of the weapons that Warsaw has despatched to Kyiv.

“Poland needed weapons to defend themselves, and that’s exactly what we’re providing,” Chun says. “We Koreans understand that without weapons to defend yourself, the end result is a tragedy.”

The fixed risk of a North Korean assault is one purpose navy manufacturing traces had been established within the southern port metropolis of Changwon, the cradle of South Korea’s trendy arms business.

The metropolis is in a pure basin, surrounded by mountains on all sides, making it simpler to defend. The metropolis’s predominant street, Changwon-daero, has a 14.9-kilometer (9.25-mile) stretch that may double as a runway in instances of nationwide emergency.

At its southern finish is the Changwon National Industrial Complex, established within the Seventies and residential to the Hanwha Defense and Hyundai Rotem factories, the place artillery items and tanks trundle off the meeting traces.

Overseas orders are rolling on this 12 months, notably the landmark cope with Poland which the Korea Defense Industry Association estimates to be value $15.3 billion.

Hanwha places its share of that settlement at $2.4 billion, its largest contract for the K9.

Poland is one among 9 international locations – alongside South Korea, Turkey, Finland, India, Norway, Estonia, Australia and Egypt – to purchase the howitzer from Hanwha.

South Korea wants to become one of the world's top four suppliers of armaments.

Lee Boo-hwan, an government vice chairman of Hanwha Defense’s abroad enterprise division, says the corporate needs to be a long-term accomplice to international locations that purchase its weapons. To that finish, it is organising new manufacturing amenities in Australia, Egypt and Poland.

“My workers are very happy to share our technology,” Lee says. “It is our main strategic focus to enter (new) markets.”

It’s additionally about repeatedly updating and enhancing the product, he says, and that’s occurring inside South Korea.

The firm has already prototyped the K9A2 tank, which situates the crew outdoors the turret to make them much less susceptible to assault, and is creating “a more futuristic, next generation version,” Lee says.

“It is fully automated operation, unmanned platform,” with synthetic intelligence to let it be taught on the battlefield, he says.

At a sprawling, trendy complicated in Changwon, Hanwha’s robots churn out the artillery items for K9s on the fee of 1 unit each three to 5 days.

A mixture of robots and people mix on a seven-station meeting line to place collectively what’s going to ultimately be 47 metric tons of metal, equipment and electronics.

One robotic, greater than two tales excessive, welds the turrets, the brightness of the white-hot process lighting up the cavernous meeting constructing.

Further down the road, one other robotic bores holes within the green-painted metal, switching bits robotically because it goes about its work with an accuracy of 1/a hundredth of a millimeter, thinner than a human hair, in accordance with a Hanwha Defense official.

Once the robots are executed, it is the flip of Hanwha’s employees. Each hull because it goes alongside the road bears the images of 11 of them.

“We provide excellence by name,” says Lee, the Hanwha government vice chairman.

At every meeting station, there’s a “tollgate,” with inexperienced, yellow and pink lights. Any employee can cease the road with a pink gentle and summon engineers in the event that they spot an issue.

At the ultimate cease is the bore sighting, the place the accuracy of the K9’s gun is examined on a goal on the far finish of the workspace.

The accomplished items then go outdoors for efficiency testing, inflicting the bottom to vibrate as they roar alongside a paved street close to their high pace of 67 kilometers per hour (42 mph).

Test drivers spin the tracked howitzer a technique then the opposite, the rubber pads on the tracks leaving donuts on the concrete.

As the drivers put the items by means of their paces, Lee explains how Hanwha customizes K9s for its abroad clients: these sure for northern climates like Norway get further warmth sources for the crew; these made for warmer locations like India or Egypt get extra air con. Some of the manufacturing facility’s K9s are headed for Poland this 12 months.

Jack Watling, senior analysis fellow for land warfare on the Royal United Services Institute in London, says South Korea is the proper testing floor.

Its seasons vary from deep-freeze winters to monsoons and summer time warmth of 30 levels Celsius or increased – and it has each flat and mountainous terrain.

“That is a pretty unique set of complex variables in terms of having a vehicle that’s reliable across climatic conditions,” Watling says.

And that’s attracted overseas patrons, he says.

Just a couple of miles from the place the K9 artillery items are being examined, the K2 tanks on the Hyundai Rotem manufacturing facility are being put by means of their paces.

Again, the newest buyer is Poland.

“This is our first time directly exporting our (K2),” says Kim, the Hyundai Rotem VP.

Orders from South Korea’s navy preserve the K2 meeting line busy sufficient – however the Polish order means Hyundai Rotem can add capability.

This is primarily like shopping for a brand new automotive off the lot. In the tank world, you possibly can’t fairly drive your new K2 residence that day, however you get the thought.

“The most important thing is that it is currently being produced,” Kim says.

Hanwha Defense has its eyes on one market specifically – the United States, the world’s largest protection market.

“We want to enter the US market with support from a US local company and also, we want to contribute to the US Army and the US local defense industry,” says Lee, the Hanwha VP.

In 2021, US navy spending was $801 billion. But South Korean weapons and ammunition exports to the US accounted for under $95 million, in accordance with the US Commerce Department.

Overall, US navy spending was greater than the following 9 international locations mixed, in accordance with SIPRI. South Korea ranked tenth.

But the South Korean protection business must be seen as a accomplice that enhances its American counterpart, reasonably than competes with it, Chun says.

That large US navy price range consists of enormous expenditure on top-shelf objects. That’s not what Seoul is promoting, he factors out.

“There are portions of a spectrum of weapons that the United States does not make, because they feel they don’t need to. It doesn’t make a profit for their industry. That’s what we’re targeting. The systems that we have sold to Poland are exactly those kind of systems,” he says.

“I’m hoping that the United States understands that this is a partnership,” Chun provides.

“The United States makes the greatest and best weapons in the world,” he says, “but they don’t make all of them.”

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