Procurement: South Korea Demands Better


January 18, 2011: South Korea, faced with the prospect of war with North Korea, or at least intervention after a collapse of their northern neighbor, has decided that South Korean suppliers of weapons and military equipment aren't doing good enough. Recent revelations of defective clothing and other equipment, and amphibious armored vehicles that sink have created an angry public. So the military procurement agency (DAPA) has undertaken a program to more closely monitor quality and compliance with military requirements, and to help suppliers do this (with cash, experts and whatever it takes.)

South Korea has developed a mania for quality products over the past few decades. This was the result of having to not only learn how to produce the same products as neighbor Japan, but to do it to the same high quality standards. Not too long ago, South Korean electronics (and other products)  were considered the cheaper, less high quality, alternative to Japanese stuff. No more. This was a big deal in South Korea, where beating the Japanese at anything is very important. Moreover, unlike Japan, South Korea can export weapons (the Japanese constitution forbids this), and the South Koreans have been doing this with growing success, on the basis of lower price and higher, or equal, quality to competing systems. Thus there is a lot of popular support for any effort that will ensure that South Korean soldiers get the highest quality equipment, especially if it's made in South Korea.

South Korea exported over a billion dollars worth of military gear in each of the last two years. South Korea expects to enter the big league (the top 10) of weapons exporters in the next few years. This will be propelled by sales of the new South Korean T-50 jet trainer. This aircraft was developed over the last decade, at a cost of over two billion dollars. The first test flight of the T-50 took place in 2002. The 13 ton aircraft is actually a light fighter, and can fly at supersonic speeds. With some added equipment (radars and fire control), the T-50 can be quickly turned into a combat aircraft, the A-50. This version carries a 20mm auto-cannon and up to four tons of smart bombs and missiles. The T-50 can stay in the air about four hours per sortie and has a service life of 8,000 hours in the air. South Korea apparently has several large sales deals in the works. At $20 million each, the T-50 is one of the more competitive jet trainers on the market. About 100-150 of these aircraft are bought each year by the world's air forces. In addition, the A-50 version is a very competitive light combat aircraft as well. The development of a combat aircraft is a major milestone for any industrializing nation. Fifty years ago, South Korea was a very poor agricultural nation. The changes have been remarkable.

Meanwhile, South Korea offers a wide array of weapons, including modern tanks and infantry vehicles, along with infantry weapons and electronics. South Korean firms are also developing military robots and sensors. South Korea expects to be exporting $3 billion worth of weapons by 2012.



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