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South Korea: How Hanwha Aerospace becomes a central player in the war in Ukraine

South Korea continues to increase its arms exports as sector heavyweights face production declines. Since the invasion of Ukraine, the Hanwha Aerospace factory has tripled its production capacity.

At a massive South Korean weapons factory, robots and highly skilled workers are producing weapons that could ultimately play a role in Ukraine. Since the Russian invasion in February 2022, the Hanwha Aerospace factory in the southern city of Changwon has tripled its production capacity, workers told AFP during a visit last week.

South Korean policy has long prohibited the sale of weapons in conflicts. However, Seoul signed arms deals worth $17.3 billion (€16.2 billion) last year, including one worth $12.7 billion with Poland, a NATO member and key ally of Kiev, particularly for K9 cannons and K2 tanks.

The country has been able to increase its arms exports when other heavyweights in the sector, particularly the United States, face production shortages. Poland ordered 212 K9 cannons last year and Seoul has already delivered 48, a pace “that no one else can match,” Lee Kyoung-hun, head of production at Hanwha Aerospace, the country’s largest weapons manufacturer, told AFP.

“Short terms”

Seoul aims to become the world’s fourth-largest arms exporter, behind the United States, Russia and France, a goal now achievable, according to industry experts. In its latest report, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) points to a meteoric increase in arms exports from Seoul, of +74%. The country has already sold artillery shells to Washington, but under an “end-user” agreement, meaning the US military will use the munitions.

The South Korean arms industry has a great advantage over other players in the sector: it has always been “prepared for war,” emphasizes Choi Dong-bin, senior vice president of Hanwha Aerospace.

South Korea and its northern neighbor have technically been at war since the 1950-1953 Korean conflict ended with an armistice, without a peace treaty, between Seoul and Pyongyang. South Korea has kept production lines open and Choi said this gives the country a significant advantage in weapons production because Seoul has the ability to mass produce quickly and easily.

Seoul’s weapons have also been well tested.

New situation

North Korea lacks Seoul’s high-tech weaponry and has obsolete ammunition stockpiles dating back to the Soviet era. During a six-day visit to Russia that ended Sunday, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un met Vladimir Putin and experts suspect Moscow wants to buy weapons from Pyongyang for the conflict in Ukraine. North Korea is suspected of wanting to acquire technologies for its nuclear and missile programs.

Although Seoul has condemned Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, it has resisted calls to strengthen its support for Kiev, in part because it has long called on Moscow to intercede with the North Korean dictator.

But if Russia starts buying weapons from Pyongyang – despite international sanctions – it could change the course of the war in Ukraine and force Seoul to act, according to Choi Gi-il, a professor of military studies at Sangji University.

The export of South Korean weapons, in particular the K9 rifle, would be “very valuable for kyiv.”

Author: PD with AFP
Source: BFM TV

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