The Saudi defense industry wants to become a major arms player by 2030 by reproducing the South Korean model

The president of the state company, Saudi Arabia Military Industries, presented his ambitions to make the Saudi defense industry a major player in the global arms market by 2030, at the Bourget 2023. Reproducing the South Korean model, it intends to rely on the immense needs for the modernization of the Kingdom's armies, to negotiate advantageous contracts with significant technology transfers, with all market players today. today, including China and Russia.

While a majority of Western governments, particularly in Europe, reduced their defense industrial investments following the collapse of the Soviet bloc in the mid-90s, South Korea, still exposed to the threat from Pyongyang, saw this as a opportunity to develop its own defense industry, building on the dynamic that had already enabled the country to become a global industrial and technological player in many areas for around twenty years.

How has the South Korean arms industry established itself in 30 years?

To achieve this, Seoul has approached many Western industrialists, with juicy contracts to modernize the South Korean armed forces thanks to the subsidies released by the sustained growth of the country's economy.

Dosan-Ahn Changho submarine South Korea
Seoul has been able to develop the South Korean defense industry by negotiating major technology transfers as part of the modernization of its armies.

This is how Germany, France, Great Britain, the United States and even Russia signed major arms orders in the 90s and 2000s, a major opportunity when the market was par otherwise sluggish, even if it was necessary to be more conciliatory than usual.

Indeed, these contracts were accompanied by important technology transfer clauses, which allowed South Korean manufacturers, in 20 years time, to upgrade to the best Western equipment.

These collaborations gave birth to numerous modern and efficient equipment, including the K9 self-propelled gun, the K2 Black tank Panther, the submarine Dosan Anh Changho or the destroyers KDDX III Sejong the Great.

And even if all were, in part, equipped with European and American technological solutions, the South Korean defense industry was becoming more and more autonomous, and above all ready to export.

Today, it is present in many Defense markets, as well as in numerous competitions, often against the very manufacturers who allowed it to acquire the initial skills necessary to get there. Furthermore, South Korean research has now taken over to do without the latest Western equipment in their production.

Riyadh's strategy to develop the Saudi defense industry

This South Korean success has, it seems, inspired the Saudi authorities. Indeed, in an interview given to the American site BreakingDefense.com as part of the Paris Air Show, the president of the company Saudi Arabia Military Industries or SAMI, Walid Abukhaled, detailed ambitions, but also a strategy, intended to bring the company into the TOP 25 of global defense manufacturers, as well as reduce Saudi defense imports below 50% by 2030.

Airbus helicopters
In June 2023, Airbus Helicopters and Scopa industries sign a €6,5 billion agreement to build a helicopter assembly plant in the Kingdom.

Without naming it, this strategy, which is based precisely on a myriad of future contracts to modernize the equipment of the Saudi armed forces, while imposing significant technology transfers and local industrial deployment, is obviously very close to that applied by Seoul between 1995 and 2015, before taking off on its own.


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