South Korea, better known for making tiny electronic devices than lethal weapons, has set its sights on taking fourth spot in the global defense market. That target is in reach, but it’ll need to lean even more heavily on its tech prowess.
When Ukraine’s stock of munitions last year started to fall low as Russia’s invasion ground on, it turned to allies for more. That meant Western partners including the U.S. Yet not even the world’s largest military power has an infinite supply. Enter South Korea, which started shipping thousands of artillery shells to replenish U.S. stockpiles — rather than directly to Ukraine — to avoid the appearance of taking sides.
Decades of facing down North Korea, which is close to becoming a nuclear power, has forced Seoul to slowly build its own capabilities instead of relying heavily on the U.S. From self-sufficiency and stockpiling, South Korea has morphed into a global exporter. The war in Eastern Europe helped South Korea more than double weapons sales last year, not only to the U.S. and Ukraine, but to neighboring countries which increasingly fear Russia’s aggression. Last year, Hyundai Rotem and Hanwha Defense Systems sealed deals with Poland totaling $5.8 billion to sell tanks and howitzers.