Is South Korea a threat to the European defense industry?

In recent years, a new player has appeared on the international arms export scene. While South Korea exported less than $1 billion in equipment at the start of the 2010s, in 2021 it recorded more than $10 billion in orders, and the year 2022 looks even more promising, particularly with a succession of major contracts with Poland, but also other successes in Asia, Africa, the Middle East and Europe. The fact is, today, the South Korean defense industry has become a strong partner, both in the Western sphere, including against the United States and the Europeans, and in the non-aligned sphere, against to Europeans but also to Russia. The rapid growth of the South Korean presence, particularly in certain key areas for European defense companies, such as armored vehicles, artillery, the missiles and submarines, now directly threatens European exports, which are themselves dependent on their exports to guarantee their sustainability.

It must be said that the South Korean offer in terms of arms exports is not lacking in trappings likely to seduce their potential customers. On the one hand, these are often recognized as efficient, as is the case of the now famous K9 Thunder self-propelled artillery system, in service since the early 2000s, and exported to 8 armed forces, including 5 members of NATO (Estonia, Finland, Norway, Poland and Turkey for more than 600 copies). Direct competitor of the German Pzh2000 and the American M109, the K9 indeed offers performances which have nothing to envy to its two competitors, whether in terms of mobility, protection and firepower, thanks to a gun of 155mm/52 calibers powered by a 48-round autoloading system, capable of sustaining a sustained rate of fire of 6-8 rounds per minute.

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Powerful, well protected and inexpensive, the K9 Thunder has already won over 5 European countries

The second key argument put forward by Seoul is none other than the price of its equipment, both for purchase and for implementation. Thus, the K9 is offered at a price of 5 to 6 million $, more than half the price of its main Western competitors Pzh2000 and M109, and at a price close to that of the exported versions of the Russian 2S19 Msta-s, however significantly less efficient. The same goes for K2 Black battle tank Panther, considered by some to be the most balanced of modern battle tanks, offered for sale at around $8 million per unit, again half as expensive as the Leopard 2 Germans and the American M1A2 Abrams, certainly heavier and probably better protected, but also less mobile. This aggressiveness in terms of prices does not only concern armored vehicles, South Korean Dosan Anh Changho submarines, perfectly modern ships of 3700 tons, are offered for export under the bar of $ billion, i.e. the same price as the German Type 212CD, yet 30% lighter, and devoid of a vertical missile launch system that can accommodate missiles cruising and medium-change ballistics.

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