Korea looks to Middle East for next major defense procurement deal

Defense Minister Shin Won-sik, left, moves to the meeting venue with Saudi  National Guard Minister Abdullah bin Bandar Al Saud in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, on Feb. 4 (local time). Courtesy of Ministry of National Defense

Korea is on the verge of a substantial advancement in defense procurement with the Middle East following the recent signing of a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with Saudi Arabia, aimed at bolstering defense procurement and cooperation between the two nations.Saudi Arabia ranks fifth in global military spending, and it is the second-highest spender on defense as a percentage of gross domestic product (GDP). According to Fitch estimates, the ratio of defense spending to GDP is expected to reach 9.8 percent by 2026. As a result, Saudi Arabia’s defense market, which aims to be the leader in the Arab world, is becoming increasingly important.In a strategic move to strengthen bilateral ties and explore lucrative defense partnerships, Korean Defense Minister Shin Won-sik engaged in discussions with his Saudi Arabian counterpart, Khalid bin Salman Al Saud, during their meeting at the World Defense Show (WDS) in Riyadh, Monday. The talks focused on cooperative measures and witnessed the signing of a MOU on long-term defense industry collaboration between Korea’s Defense Acquisition Program Administration (DAPA) and the Saudi Ministry of Defense.Shin emphasized the establishment of a foundation for a “future-oriented strategic companion relationship,” highlighting the potential for a robust defense cooperation partnership. The Saudi minister echoed the sentiment, expressing the need for enhanced defense and related industrial collaboration between the two countries.“Analysis indicates that Saudi Arabia imported 80 percent of its weapons from the United States in 2021. However, due to defense nurturing policies emphasizing partnerships with foreign companies, Saudi Arabia recognizes the importance of collaboration with Korean defense companies,” an industry official said.

“The signing of a medium to long-term defense cooperation MOU between the Korean and Saudi governments is one result of this perception. Recently, the Korean and Saudi governments are securing their position as long-term partners by discussing the joint development of the sixth-generation fighter jet.”According to a recently concluded agreement, DAPA and the Saudi Ministry of Defense will establish a joint committee to enhance defense industries and military technology cooperation between the two countries in the medium to long term. Collaboration will persist through the creation of working groups in essential areas, including joint research and development and the production of weapons systems. Earlier, officials from DAPA confirmed a government-to-government meeting with the Saudi Air Force in Riyadh in December of last year regarding the KF-21 Boramae project, Korea’s indigenous fighter jet program.”Saudi and UAE officials have shown interest in the KF-21. The procurement agency visited the local area and provided explanations on general matters,” a DAPA official said.

Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI) President Kang Goo-young talks to Saudi Defense Minister Khalid bin Salman Al Saud at the 2024 World Defense Show in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, Feb. 4 (local time). Courtesy of Korea Aerospace Industries

In defense circles, discussions are underway regarding the possible collaboration for the development of a sixth-generation fighter aircraft by the two nations, leveraging the groundwork laid by the KF-21, a 4.5th-generation fighter.According to the industry, the Korean government is seeking to discuss the joint development of sixth-generation fighter jets with Saudi Arabia. If the joint development is successful, it is expected to take a significant share of the global aerospace export market.“The proposal currently under consideration by Saudi Arabia faces significant competition, with multiple contenders in the mix. We also have our proposal. Russia is offering two types of fighter jets. However, due to strained U.S.-Saudi relations, the market traditionally dominated by American-made fighter jets appears to be opening up,” said Lee Il-woo, director at Korea Defence Network.

“Additionally, with the Vision 2030 initiative, both Bin Salman and the Saudi government are displaying a strong commitment to localization. Thus, the critical factor is determining which party can offer superior technology and provide greater cooperation.”Saudi Vision 2030 is a governmental program designed to enhance economic, social and cultural diversification, aligning with the vision set forth by Saudi Crown Prince and Prime Minister Mohammed bin Salman.The reason for the discussions is due to the fierce competition in recent global defense markets for the development of supersonic fighter jets. Saudi Arabia has been unable to find a partner for the joint development of sixth-generation fighter jets.Last month, the United Kingdom, Italy and Japan signed the Global Combat Air Program (GCAP) treaty to jointly develop sixth-generation fighter jets. The GCAP plans to deploy fighter jets with significantly enhanced supersonic performance and radar detection capabilities by 2035. Saudi Arabia has expressed its desire to participate in the GCAP several times.“Saudi Arabia requested to join the GCAP but all three countries the U.K., Italy and Japan have rejected the request,” Lee said.In Europe, under the leadership of Germany, France and Spain are already developing the sixth-generation fighter jet Future Combat Air System 온라인카지노 (FCAS) together. The first test flight is scheduled for 2029.

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