South Korea is planning to turn Israel
into its main arms supplier, following recent border incidents
with its northern communist neighbor.
Kwon Oh-bong, the vice commissioner of the Defense Acquisition Program Administration (DAPA) in Seoul, visited Israel recently and revealed initial details about the growing cooperation in a conversation with the Yedioth Ahronoth daily.
During the visit, Kwon toured the defense industries and met with senior Defense Ministry officials. In his visit to Rafael Advanced Defense Systems, the South Korean official expressed an interest in the Irom Dome rocket interception system, which was activated successfully in southern Israel recently.
"The security situation and threats faced by Israel and South Korea are very similar," says Kwon. "We are constantly boosting our readiness against North Korea, and we're exposed to the types of incidents and local provocations Israel is familiar with too.
"We too are under a major threat of artillery, missiles and rockets, and we were briefed on Rafael's air defense system. It's a very interesting weapons system and we'll consider it."
Kwon also visited Israel Aerospace Industries, Elisra and Elbit, which are already involved in South Korea's T-50 trainer and assault aircraft project. Based on the F-16, the plane is competing against Italy's Aermacchi M-326 in a bid issued by the Israel Air Force for an advance trainer aircraft to replace the old-fashioned Skyhawk.
The IAI's Elta produces the radar for the plane's assault version, Elisra produces its electronic warfare system, and Elbit – some of the avionics systems.
According to Kwon, "Israeli companies already produce advance systems for the T-50, which has already been purchased by our air force and could contribute to your air force as well. If Israel does purchase the aircraft, Israeli companies will be able to take part in its production. When the Defense Ministry and Air Force select the next trainer aircraft, they should have the future potential cooperation in mind."
The Korean interest focuses on missile and aerial systems made in Israel. In the past two years, the South Koreans made acquisitions of close to $400 million in Israel, and major deals are still being negotiated between the two countries.
"The South Korean defense budget stands at $30 billion, and the military acquisition budget stands at $10 billion and grows as time goes by on the backdrop of the situation.
"In the past few years we have purchased in Israel the Green Pine radar and the Harpy UAV. The United States has been our main arms supplier for years, but in recent years Israel has become a key acquisition source together with European countries."
Meanwhile, a South Korean delegation which visited Israel at the same time looked into potential collaborations with the Defense Ministry in the areas of security research and development.
"I was very impressed by the fact that 90% of Israel's defense industry activity is designated for exports. This shows how competitive and advanced it is. South Korea also has an extensive and competitive defense industry, which could find partners in Israel."