The Polish order from Korea for 1,000 K2 main battle tanks, 672 K9 self-propelled guns and 48 FA-50PL light fighters is surprising because those numbers are so huge.
The Korean defense industry is flourishing with a series of massive arms sales. The agency “Invest Korea” proudly announced: “South Korea’s arms exports have tripled, rising to the eighth rank in the world.” According to Invest Korea, in the period 2017-2021, South Korea’s arms exports increased by 176.8% over the previous five years, accounting for 2.8% of the global arms export market. In 2021 alone, the value of the country’s arms exports is 7 billion USD, and 11.4 billion USD in 2020, when the pandemic just started.
The Polish order from Korea for 1,000 K2 main battle tanks, 672 K9 self-propelled guns and 48 FA-50PL light fighters is surprising because those numbers are so huge. It should be known that these K2 tanks are the most expensive in the world, up to $8.5 million each. That means the total value of Poland’s orders is up to $8.5 billion.
Poland found the K2 tank effective in defense, and South Korea was a suitable supplier that solved their specific problems. Poland has the largest tank force of any NATO country in Europe, around 750 to 1,000 tanks. Two-thirds of these tanks were inherited from the Soviet Union, but they lag behind the heavily upgraded Russian T-90A or T-72B3 series.
The situation in Europe since the Russian-Georgian flash war in 2008, and especially after the outbreak of the Ukraine war, made Poland urgently need a tank line capable of confronting Russian tanks in a potential war. Not only Poland, other countries in Europe are also interested in South Korean defense products. And South Korean manufacturers really know how to grasp the needs of potential customers.
Localization of weapons is a basic condition for Korea to sign a contract, not only with the Czech Republic and Poland. In Southeast Asia, Indonesia is another example. Since 2014, Reuters has reported that “Indonesia will jointly develop a jet fighter project with South Korea worth $8 billion.” The KF-X fighters will be delivered to the Indonesian Ministry of Defense from 2025.
In addition, Indonesia and South Korea also cooperate in building naval ships. In July 2021, the Indonesian navy commissioned the first submarine assembled in Southeast Asia, KRI Alugoro, number 405. It was the last of three diesel-electric attack submarines that Jakarta has contracted with South Korea’s Daewoo Shipbuilding & Marine Engineering in a 2011 deal worth $1.1 billion.
South Korean arms contracts are accompanied by technology transfer agreements. That is the attraction of the Korean defense industry. Flexible sales policy helps Korea quickly expand customers and markets, creating a positive momentum to accelerate their own weapons production.
This openness in purchasing and co-development policy was the decisive factor that led Poland to sign a contract for 1,000 K2s, although two years ago French President Emmanuel Macron personally visited Warsaw to promote Poland to buy tanks from France and Germany. Winning customers from Germany, it must be said that Korea is not ordinary at all!