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

The agreement, which is expected to be officially announced in Poland on Wednesday, provides for the purchase by Warsaw of 980 tanks based on the South Korean K2 model, 648 K9 self-propelled armored howitzers and 48 FA-50 fighter jets, the ministry said. It wouldn’t confirm the value of the deal.

The first 180 Hyundai Rotem K2 tanks equipped with self-loading 120mm guns are expected to arrive this year, while production of 800 upgraded tanks will begin in 2026 in Poland, the ministry said.

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

The ministry said the armored vehicles will partially replace Soviet-era tanks that Poland has handed over to Ukraine for use in the fight against Russia.

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

CNN has reached out to South Korea’s defense procurement program administration and participating arms manufacturers for comment.

Chung In-beom, a retired South Korean general, said the deal with Poland is Seoul’s biggest arms export deal ever.

He also praised the weapons involved.

“K9 (howitzer) … perhaps the best artillery system in the world, which only the German system can compete with. The FA-50 is a combat version of the T-50 that has earned a reputation as the best trainer in the world. The K2 tank in its latest version will be better than anything in South Korea today,” Chun said.

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

Higher profile for Korean weapons

Leif-Erik Isley, an associate professor of international studies at Ewha Women’s University in Seoul, said the arms deal has its roots in the administration of former President Moon Jae-in, who sought major foreign contracts to develop South Korea’s defense industry.

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

“But the war in Ukraine raises the geopolitical stakes” for Seoul, Easley said.

A lucrative arms deal with Poland, a NATO member, means that South Korea will have to share the “burden of protecting the international order,” Easley said.

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

Since joining NATO in 1999, Poland has become a key member of the 30-member alliance and has been purchasing US-made military equipment, including Abrams main battle tanks as well as F-35 stealth fighters.

Poland also became a major supporter of the Kyiv government after 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 showed Poland’s urgent need for South Korean weapons.

“We talked about accelerating the supply of these weapons to the Polish Army. Why is it important? Because of the war on our eastern frontier. equipment made in Korea,” Blashak said at the time.

He said that South Korea and Poland faced similar security situations and therefore needed the same weapons.

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“Why is Korean technology proven? Because Korea has a challenge from its northern neighbor, which is also pursuing an aggressive policy, so our task is to equip the Polish Armed Forces with modern equipment. Technique that will deter the aggressor. … made in Korea,” Blaszczak said.

However, some defense industry analysts are wondering if South Korean weapons are right for Europe.

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

“The same weapon. Same engine and gearbox. But in general, less perfect with poor electronic architecture … Not a bad tank.

Drummond also said that equipment made in Asia could end up with supply chain problems during the war in Europe.

“It is only right that Asian countries buy from Korea as these customers can be easily supported during a war. But supporting European customers in an emergency is likely to be more of a challenge,” he said.

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

South Korean attack aircraft

The FA-50 jet aircraft, produced by Korea Aerospace Industries in conjunction with US defense giant Lockheed Martin, is a supersonic light combat aircraft suitable for ground attack and some air-to-air missions.

The aircraft, operated by the South Korean Air Force since 2013, is armed with Sidewinder air-to-air missiles, Maverick air-to-ground missiles and a triple-barreled 30mm strafing cannon. He can also use precision bombs and gravity bombs.

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