New Arsenal of Democracy: South Korean Arms Sale to Poland

The return of industrial era war favors South Korea's arms manufacturers.

New Arsenal of Democracy: South Korean Arms Sale to Poland

Photo: K2 Black Panther.  Credit: Republic of Korea Army.

On July 27, the Defense Ministry of Poland announced that it had entered into a memorandum of understanding with South Korean companies to purchase 980 units of K2 Black Panther K2 흑표 main battle tanks, 648 units of K-9 self-propelled howitzers K-9 자주포, and 48 units of FA-50 light fighter jets FA-50 경공격기.

Hyundai Rotem 현대 로템 produces K2 Black Panther; Hanwha Defense 한화디펜스 manufactures the K-9 howitzers and Korea Aerospace Industries 한국우주항공산업, the FA-50. The delivery of the weapons will be in stages, to be completed by 2030. The value of the purchase will likely be more than KRW 10t (USD 8b), making it the largest weapons export in South Korean history.

Poland’s purchase of 980 main battle tanks (MBT) is greater than the MBT force of the United Kingdom, France and Germany combined. The eastern European country’s massive armament must be considered against the backdrop of the Russia-Ukraine War, which is not only raising military tension in Europe, but challenging the conventional assumptions of modern warfare.

The prevailing wisdom used to be that 21st century war would be mainly fought with high tech fighter jets and ballistic missiles, making industrial-era weapons like tanks and artillery less relevant. This caused many national armies to reduce the size of their armored forces, which in turn caused weapons manufacturers to shift away from producing them.

But because of South Korea’s unique geopolitics that involve an indefinite state of war against North Korea, its defense industry continued to develop modernized versions of the weapons typically deployed in a 20th century-style war. As Russia’s invasion revealed the importance of conventional weaponry, South Korea’s defense industry was in the position to step in where other countries have retreated.

As the South Korean arms to Poland are NATO-compatible, expect South Korean weapons manufacturers to expand their sales to other European countries that are looking to re-arm themselves in the face of the Russian threat.

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