Poland buys hundreds of South Korean tanks and howitzers after sending weapons to Ukraine

The ministry said the agreement, expected to be officially announced in Poland on Wednesday, will see Warsaw purchase 980 tanks based on the South Korean K2 model, 648 K9 self-propelled howitzers, and 48 FA-50 combat aircraft. You will not confirm the transaction value.

The first 180 K2 tanks, made by Hyundai Rotem and equipped with 120mm self-loading guns, are expected to arrive this year, with production of 800 upgraded tanks starting in 2026 in Poland, according to the ministry.

The first 48 K9 howitzers, produced by Hanwha Defense, are also expected to arrive this year, with deliveries of a second batch of 600 scheduled to begin in 2024. The ministry said that from 2025 they will be produced in Poland.

The ministry said these armored vehicles will partially replace the Soviet-era tanks donated by Poland to Ukraine for use in its fight against Russia.

The ministry’s comments to CNN come after Poland’s Defense Minister Mariusz Pusschatek tweeted on July 22 that the deal would “significantly increase Poland’s security and the strength of the Polish army.”

CNN has contacted South Korea’s Defense Acquisition Program Administration and relevant arms manufacturers for comment.

Chun In Bom, a retired South Korean general, said the deal with Poland is Seoul’s largest arms export agreement ever.

He also praised the weapons used.

“K9 (howitzer) … is perhaps the best artillery system in the world, rivaled only by the German system. The FA-50 is a combat version of the T-50, which has earned a reputation for being the best trainer in the world’s inventory. The K2 tank in its latest version will be even better than anything South Korea has had so far,” Chun said.

A South Korean K2 tank takes part in a live-fire show in 2018.

Higher status for Korean weapons

Leif Eric Easley, assistant professor of international studies at Ewa Women’s University in Seoul, said the arms deal traces its roots to the administration of former President Moon Jae-in, who sought large foreign contracts to boost South Korea’s defense industries.

Easley said Moon’s successor, President Yoon Seok Yeol, who took office in May, also wants to push for such exports.

“But the war in Ukraine increases the geopolitical risks” for Seoul, Easley said.

Easley said the lucrative arms deal with Poland, a NATO member, means South Korea is expected to share “the burden of defending the international system.”

“Washington and NATO expect Seoul to increase aid to Ukraine and maintain sanctions against Russia, even if it costs the South Korean economy,” Easley said.

Since joining NATO in 1999, Poland has become a major member of the 30-member alliance, and has been buying US-made military equipment, including Abrams main battle tanks And the F-35 stealth fighter jets.

Poland also became a big supporter of the government in Kyiv in the wake of the Russian invasion, striking deals to send more than 200 tanks and self-propelled howitzers to Ukraine.

Urgent need

During a visit to Seoul in May, Poland’s defense minister said the war in Ukraine demonstrated Poland’s urgent need for South Korean weapons.

“We talked about accelerating the delivery of these weapons to the Polish army. What is the importance of this? Because of the war on our eastern borders. It is important that the Polish armed forces are equipped with modern equipment and proven equipment, and this is the equipment that Korea produced,” said Boschastak at that time.

He said that South Korea and Poland face similar security situations and therefore need similar weapons.

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“Why has Korean equipment been proven? Because Korea is facing the challenge of its northern neighbor, which also pursues an aggressive policy, so our task is to provide the Polish armed forces with modern equipment. Equipment that will deter the aggressor. This equipment is undoubtedly… produced in Korea.” .

Some defense industry analysts question whether South Korean weapons are suitable for Europe.

The K2 is essentially a less capable version of the German Leopard 2 main battle tank, said Nicholas Drummond, a defense industry analyst specializing in land warfare and a former British Army officer.

“Same gun. Same engine and gearbox. But overall less complex with poor electronic geometry… Not a bad tank. But it’s not field class,” he said.

Drummond also said that devices made in Asia could eventually run into supply chain problems during the war in Europe.

“It is right for Asian countries to buy from Korea as these customers can easily be supported in time of war. But supporting European customers in emergency situations is likely to be more difficult,” he said.

A South Korean Air Force FA-50 Golden Eagle fighter jet at a US air base in South Korea in 2017.

South Korea’s ground attack aircraft

The FA-50, produced jointly by Korea Aerospace Industries and the US defense giant Lockheed Martin, is a light hypersonic combat aircraft suitable for ground attack and some air missions.

The aircraft, which has been piloted by the South Korean Air Force since 2013, is armed with Sidewinder air-to-air missiles and Maverick air-to-surface missiles, and a 30mm three-barrel bombardment cannon. He can also use precision-guided bombs and gravity bombs.

The FA-50, in its combat and training version, has found export customers in Colombia, Indonesia, Iraq, the Philippines and Thailand. But with an order of 48 aircraft, Poland will become the largest operator of aircraft outside South Korea.