Weapons: South Korean Arms Exports to the Middle East


April 13, 2024: South Korea recently signed the CEPA (Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement) with the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) and other Middle East nations to make it easier for South Korea to export weapons and military equipment to Middle Eastern nations, particularly without the burden of heavy import tariffs and similar additional costs. Recent exports include the KM-SAM (Surface to Air Missile) air defense systems that can also intercept ballistic missiles, man-portable Raybolt ATGMs (Anti-tank Guided Missiles) and K329 MLRS (Multiple Launch Rocket Systems).

The South Koreans have a reputation for providing excellent post-sale service for equipment they offer. This is a major sales advantage in the Middle East, where most nations have a shortage of local technicians and are increasingly reluctant to hire technicians from Europe or the United States. South Korean technicians speaking English or Arabic are a welcome change.

Middle Eastern Military Officials are increasingly considering South Korea when they seek new weapons or improved replacements for ones they already have. South Korea has much to offer, including combat aircraft like the KF-21 and FA-50 as well as Surion helicopters. There is also the M-SAM-2 BMD (ballistic missile defense) system which can also intercept aircraft at all altitudes. South Korea is also a major manufacturer of diesel-electric submarines for the South Korea Navy as well as export customers. This month South Korean submarine builder Hyundai Heavy Industries delivered the 21st of 27 KSS class diesel-electric submarines. These are 3,600 ton boats with vertical launch tubes for missiles as well as the usual torpedo tubes for torpedoes and deploying naval mines. These new submarines use lithium-ion batteries that enable these submarines to remain submerged for weeks at a time. This is nearly as effective as an SSN (nuclear powered attack submarine) and a lot cheaper. These subs were designed for extended cruises in the Pacific Ocean, which is much larger than the North Atlantic, where most submarines have operated for over a century. In the 21st Century the Pacific is the likely main theater of operations for any future conflict. The 20th Century submarine threat came from Germany which Russia has been a much smaller threat in the 20th and 21st Centuries.

South Korea has also been exporting a large array of accessories for naval, air and land combat. This includes American GE F414 jet engines built under license in South Korea for their KF-21 fighter. The South Korean built engine is available to other nations for aircraft under development. South Korea also develops and builds electronic systems for combat aircraft including AESA radars and very capable fire control systems and airborne communications networks.

North Korea is also a prolific exporter of weapons. While many Western nations are sending South Korean weapons to Ukraine, Russia uses ballistic missiles, artillery shells and other munitions from North Korea for use in Ukraine against Ukrainian forces.




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