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Egypt emerges as new market for Korean arms exports

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The Black Eagles, the Korea Air Force's aerobatic flight team, stages a performance during the Pyramid Air Show over the Giza Pyramids in Giza, Egypt, Thursday (local time). Courtesy of ROK Air Force
The Black Eagles, the Korea Air Force's aerobatic flight team, stages a performance during the Pyramid Air Show over the Giza Pyramids in Giza, Egypt, Thursday (local time). Courtesy of ROK Air Force

North African country interested in Korean military hardware

By Kang Seung-woo, Joint Press Corps

Following a massive arms deal with Poland, Korea has now set its eyes on Egypt, a new potential suitor seen as the next biggest market for defense products after the United States.

According to Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI), Friday, a delegation comprised of the Defense Acquisition Program Administration (DAPA), the Air Force and KAI flew to Cairo to promote the company's FA-50 light attacker, a variant of the T-50 supersonic trainer jet, co-developed with Lockheed Martin. Ahead of a stop in Cairo, the delegation also visited Britain and Poland.

"We have laid the groundwork for cooperation in various fields with Egypt in the medium to long term," said Lee Bong-keun, vice president and general manager of KAI's International Business Division.

Egypt, one of the largest military powers across the African continent and the Middle East, plans to replace its trainers and fighters, and is regarded as a potential purchaser of the FA-50 as well as the newly-developed KF-21 Boramae fighter jet.

The KF-21 is the nation's first warplane domestically manufactured under the KF-X program and it successfully conducted its flight test on July 19 and 29.

Egypt is expected to purchase around 100 trainer jets, which is the second highest after 500 required by the respective programs of the U.S. Air Force and Navy to procure advanced tactical trainers.

Egypt has expressed its interest in Korean-made military hardware. In February, the African country signed a 2 trillion won ($1.5 billion) deal to buy some 200 K-9 self-propelled howitzers, produced by Korea's Hanwha Defense. But ahead of the contract, the North African country has been in negotiations with KAI about procuring the FA-50 and local production of the aircraft.

Given that Egypt's per-capita income is $4,000, there might be speculation that its industrial competitiveness is low. But many say the number is not really indicative of how competitive the country is in the defense sector.

Egypt developed and produced a supersonic fighter in 1964 and in addition it possess 1,360 M1A1 Abrams main battle tanks, most of which were locally manufactured, meaning that the country has a wealth of experience in local production of military hardware.

The delegation believes that if Korea's technology is added to Egypt's experience and potential, the synergy effect would be significant, and it would be possible to meet the demands of the Egyptian military and even promote exports to a third country by locally producing aircraft following Korea's technology transfer.

"Egypt is a country with the best defense capabilities on the African continent and the Middle East," Lee said. "Once the joint production and maintenance contract is signed, Cairo will become a major key hub covering the entire African and Middle Eastern markets."

Korea's Ambassador to Egypt Hong Jin-wook also said, "Cooperation on the defense industry is only available with the highest level of trust between two countries, because it is directly related to the safety and lives of people."

The promotion in Egypt came after Poland last month signed "frame contracts" with Korea to acquire 48 FA-50 jets, 980 K2 battle tanks and 648 K9 howitzers ― one of the Eastern European country's most important and largest defense orders in recent years, according to its government.

In addition, KAI, the nation's lone aircraft manufacturer, seeks to sell 1,000 FA-50s within a decade.

Last month, KAI President Ahn Hyun-ho said exporting 1,000 of the jets will open up a market worth 40 trillion won in sales and 100 trillion won in follow-up logistics support.

Kang Seung-woo


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