This month, India announced plans to buy eight mine-countermeasure vessels from a South Korean company in a deal worth $1.2 billion. In an email interview, Scott W. Harold, an associate political scientist at the RAND Corp., discussed the state of the South Korean defense industry.
WPR: What is the current state of South Korea's defense industry, and what is driving its growth?
Scott W. Harold: From an extremely low base in the 1970s, the Republic of Korea’s (ROK) defense industry has been maturing in a number of areas including ground systems, precision strike capabilities, electronics and shipbuilding. It has also innovated substantially in light arms and unmanned systems, while gaining experience with fixed-wing and rotary aircraft manufacturing. The defense industrial sector’s growth has been spurred by the drive to modernize the ROK armed forces as well as demand from foreign powers. The growing maturity of South Korean defense technology and the need to export in order to sustain the industrial base led the Lee Myung-bak administration (2007-2012) to seek to turn South Korea’s defense industry into an “engine of growth” that would average $4 billion worth of exports per year and employ 50,000 people by 2020.