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Korea becomes world's 8th-largest arms exporter

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A security officer checks K9 self-propelled howitzers as Poland receives the first delivery of Korean K2 Black Panther tanks and K9 self-propelled howitzers at the port in Gdynia, Poland, Tuesday (local time). Reuters-Yonhap
A security officer checks K9 self-propelled howitzers as Poland receives the first delivery of Korean K2 Black Panther tanks and K9 self-propelled howitzers at the port in Gdynia, Poland, Tuesday (local time). Reuters-Yonhap

By Kang Seung-woo

Korea made the list of the top-10 arms exporters over the last five years, while its defense expenditure was the world's 10th-largest, according to a state defense research agency, Friday.

The Korea Research Institute for Defense Technology Planning and Advancement (KRIT) released the Global Defense Market Yearbook 2022, showing that its exports from 2017 to 2021 accounted for 2.8 percent of the world's total defense exports after increasing 177 percent from the 2016-20 period. The report cited data from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.

According to the research, the United States topped the list with a share of 39 percent, followed by Russia with 19 percent and France with 11 percent. China and Germany rounded out the top five with 4.6 percent and 4.5 percent, respectively.

Taking a closer look at top export destinations during the five-year period, Asia and Oceania took up 63 percent, followed by Europe with 24 percent. By country, the Philippines represented 16 percent, while both Indonesia and Britain accounted for 14 percent.

In addition, exports to the Middle East are on the increase, as evidenced in 2021 by the procurement of howitzers by Egypt and a surface-to-air missile weapon system by the United Arab Emirates, the study added.

Given that Korea has signed a sales deal this year with Poland for 980 K2 battle tanks, 648 K9 self-propelled howitzers and 48 FA-50 light attack aircraft, the country is expected to expand its presence in the global defense market in the future.

Behind the Polish contract ― the nation's most important and largest defense orders in recent years ― President Yoon Suk-yeol recently unveiled a goal to carve out a five percent share in the global arms export market by 2027 to become the world's fourth-largest defense exporter.

The research also found that Korea was the seventh-largest defense importer during the same period, accounting for 4.1 percent.

It added that Korea's imports increased by 71 percent in the 2017-2021 period, affected by the purchase of F-35s and long-range air defense systems.

Meanwhile, Korea's defense spending last year stood at $50.2 billion (66 trillion won) to rank 10th in the world. The figure accounted for 2.4 percent of the global defense spending of $2.11 trillion. Its annual military expenditure has increased by 43 percent since 2012.

The U.S. also was the biggest defense spender with $801 billion, accounting for 38 percent, followed by China with $293 billion for a 14 percent share. India with $76.6 billion, Britain with $68.4 billion and Russia with $65.9 billion rounding out the top five.

In addition, global defense spending exceeded $2 trillion for the first time last year, the highest since 1990 when $2.113 trillion was spent. Global defense spending showed a slight downward trend between 2011 and 2015, but has continued to increase since 2016.


Kang Seung-woo ksw@koreatimes.co.kr


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