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South Korean defense exports to Poland expected to enhance NATO defense, industry cooperation

Felix Kim

In a development that underscores the strengthening ties between South Korea and Poland, the nations have embarked on a historic arms deal. Under the $13.7 billion agreement reached in 2022, South Korea’s largest to date, Poland will receive tanks, rocket launchers and jet fighters.

Building on this foundation, South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol and Polish President Andrzej Duda announced during a mid-July 2023 summit in the Polish capital, Warsaw, their intention to expand bilateral relations in strategic sectors, including nuclear power and defense.

“Cooperation between Poland and Korea in the field of the defense industry has intensified greatly. Today, Korean defense products modernize the Polish Army,” Duda told reporters, adding that his government anticipates “that this equipment will be produced in Poland.”

The collaboration is poised to enhance Poland’s national defense and the broader capabilities of the NATO alliance, of which Warsaw is a member, Bruce Bennett, a Rand Corp. expert on Northeast Asian military issues, told FORUM. Poland, having relied on aging Soviet-era military equipment, recognized the need for upgraded defenses amid regional tensions, he said. The deal with Seoul will enable Poland to adopt systems significantly more effective than its current arsenal.

“The Poles, given Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, decided that they needed to have something more … so they could defend themselves,” Bennett said.

The weapons package, which includes multirole FA-50 Fighting Eagle light combat aircraft, demonstrates South Korea’s growing role globally as a defense exporter and strategic partner. Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI) recently delivered the first two FA-50s to Poland and plans to customize an additional 36 aircraft for the Polish Air Force.

This tailored approach, along with establishing maintenance and training facilities, exemplifies South Korea’s commitment to providing not just hardware but comprehensive solutions that bolster its partners’ overall defense capabilities, Bennett said.

The strategic cooperation with Poland aligns with South Korea’s broader diplomatic and defense strategy, he said. By establishing itself as a provider of comprehensive defense solutions, Seoul can “gain a network where they’re hoping to then sell to other countries within NATO, within the Middle East and Southeast Asia, who are worried about Russia and China. And as they establish those defense links, it also gives them political links.”

Felix Kim is a FORUM correspondent based in Seoul, South Korea.

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