On December 7, the first shipment of South Korean tanks and howitzers was delivered to Poland just months after Warsaw placed an order in the face of a bloody war raging in its neighborhood.
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AP reported that Polish President Andrzej Duda and the country’s Defense Minister received the first shipment of tanks and howitzers from South Korea, applauding the quick fulfillment of an agreement negotiated in the summer.
The Polish ministers emphasized that South Korea responded swiftly to Poland’s need to upgrade its deterrent and defense capability urgently. They were reportedly present at the Polish Navy port of Gdynia on the Baltic coast to welcome the arrival of the first 10 Black Panther K2 tanks and 24 Thunder K9 howitzers from a $5.8 billion contract with Seoul.
“The quick pace of this delivery is of crucial importance in the face of Russian aggression and the war in Ukraine,” Duda said. “This is the future. This is the real strengthening of Poland’s security,” Duda said, standing before the tanks and the howitzers.
Poland is buying hundreds of Hyundai Rotem K2 Black Panther tanks and Hanhwa Defense K9 Thunder howitzers. The agreement includes training, logistics, essential equipment, and ammunition. The deliveries are planned through 2025.
The East European country is currently replacing Soviet-era tanks and other military weaponry provided to Ukraine to counter Russia. According to experts, the country’s desire for “Made in Korea” weapons stems from Korea’s ongoing investment in R&D and production capability.
“Not many companies worldwide can make massive weapons within a designated timeframe. South Korea is one of very few (firms) with stable production capacity coming from its readiness of preparing the war for the past 70 years, not to mention the cost competitiveness”, Yang Wook, an assistant researcher at Asan Institute for Policy Studies, told Korea Herald.
Besides the tanks and howitzers, the conservative administration in Warsaw is also spending $3 billion on Korean-made multiple missile launchers, K239 Chunmoo. The first 18 of the Chunmoo rocket launchers will be delivered in 2023 to protect eastern Poland, Defense Minister Mariusz Błaszczak said in October.
Earlier, Poland had decided to buy at least 500 M142 HIMARS that have proved their mettle in combat against Russia. However, it eventually reduced the number in favor of a South Korean launcher.
Poland is also buying a light training and combat aircraft developed jointly by Korea Aerospace and Lockheed Martin called the FA-50 fighter jet and is also looking for technology transfer.
In September, the two sides signed an agreement for 48 light trainer aircraft to replace the Soviet-era MiG-29 fighter jets. Out of the 48 aircraft, at least 12 will be delivered to Warsaw next year.
Ukraine War – An Opportunity In Disguise For South Korea
The defense cooperation between Poland and South Korea comes when the United States and the defense manufacturers in the west are invested and overstretched to provide military assistance to war-torn Ukraine. On the other hand, another major defense manufacturer, Russia, is reeling under international sanctions.
This has opened a new opportunity for countries based in Asia, and South Korea is exploiting it to the best of its potential. The United States sent its Howitzers to Ukraine and set up a repair facility in Poland to restore the artillery worn out after months of overuse.
The US and other NATO partners have shipped hundreds of thousands of rounds of 155-millimeter ammunition to Kyiv. Ironically, even the US has had to turn to South Korea.
According to reports, the United States is set to buy 100,000 rounds of Howitzer artillery from South Korea as it tries to maintain its munition stockpiles amid growing demand for weapons assistance from Ukraine.
The United States and South Korea have been working on an ammunition deal to buy 155mm howitzer munition to shore up US weapons inventory that has come under pressure from continuing military aid to Ukraine.
The South Korean Defense Ministry acknowledged continued discussions with the United States about the 155mm artillery munitions. However, it stated that the agreement was made with the assumption that the US would be the ‘end user,’ as the government has a policy of providing non-lethal aid to Ukraine.
The 155mm caliber is the NATO standard medium caliber ammunition used in the M777 howitzer. The US has supplied over 120 of these heavy weapons to Ukraine and is expected to keep the supply going as long as necessary.
However, the amount of ammunition it could spare for Ukraine without affecting its war-fighting capacity is nearing exhaustion.
This year, the South Korean military sector sold over 21 trillion won ($14.7 billion) in defense systems and weaponry to Poland.
The deals signed between the two countries could eventually position South Korea as a leading defense manufacturer in Europe, departing from the traditional practice of buying from western defense manufacturers.
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