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World-class ships and new supersonic jets signal the rise of a new defense industry powerhouse in Asia



Following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, several countries have taken this opportunity to flesh out their own defenses, one of these being South Korea.

South Korea’s defense sector has set new foreign sales records in both 2021 and 2022.

South Korea are also hopeful that 2023 will be another fruitful year. Twenty-nine South Korean companies participated in this year’s International Defense Exhibition, which was held in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates in February. 

One significant development at this exhibition was a $920 million deal with Malaysia for 18 FA-50s, this is a light combat aircraft has attracted significant interest around the world.

South Korea has rapidly developed their defense sector over the last 50-years and have catapulted themselves from having no defense sector at all to being one of the biggest arms exporters in the world.

South Korea’s defense sector started in 1968, prompted by aggressive actions by North Korea.  South Korea’s defense sector was initially put in place to meet their own needs.  They would also only purchase arms from countries who were agreeable to using South Korean components.

South Korea’s industry gradually started to export to foreign countries in 1977, and by 2016, South Korea was the 13th-largest defense exporter in the world, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.

2021 is the most recent year for which data is available, the data from this year shows South Korea as the world’s eighth-largest defense exporter, accounting for 2.8% of all arms exports between 2017 and 2021. The volume of South Korea’s exports shot up by 177% over the 2012-2016 period, which is a bigger increase than any of the other top 10 largest arms exporters during that period, as per data from SIPRI.

South Korea’s defense exports amounted to approximately $3 billion in 2020. Sales went up to to $7.2 billion in 2021 and more than doubled to an estimated $17 billion in 2022.

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