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Yoon lauds rapid growth of Korean defense industry

President commits to backing aerospace, AI digital tech for advanced military operations

Oct. 17, 2023 - 15:13 By Shin Ji-hye
Aircraft take a celebratory flight at the opening ceremony of Seoul ADEX 2023 held at Seoul Airport in Seongnam, Gyeonggi Province on Tuesday. (Yonhap)

President Yoon Suk Yeol on Tuesday pledged to boost the global competitiveness of South Korea's defense industry, calling it a strategic sector that backs both the country's security and economy, as he attended a large defense exhibition showcasing the nation's military prowess.

"Our defense industry is writing a new history by creating something from nothing," he said at the 2023 Seoul International Aerospace and Defense Exhibition, also known as Seoul ADEX, held at Seoul Airport in Seongnam, Gyeonggi Province.

"A nation once dependent on aid and imports has now advanced to produce and export top-tier fighter jets," he said. "The weapons behind me are the result of your passion and challenge."

Yoon introduced various aircraft and equipment such as the supersonic fighter KF-21, the country's first exported fighter, the FA-50 light attack aircraft, and the domestically-developed M-SAM air defense system.

"K-9 self-propelled howitzers, making up half of the global self-propelled artillery market; K-2 tanks with top-tier performance; the Korean mobile helicopter Surion; the LAH light armed helicopter; the advanced Redback armored vehicle; and the Chunmoo self-propelled multiple launch rocket system, which offers real-time precision strikes, all showcase the future of our defense industry," he said.

At the exhibition, US military aircraft including the F-22, regarded as the world's premier stealth fighter; the carrier-based EA-18G Growler electronic warfare aircraft; and the U-2 reconnaissance aircraft were also on display.

President Yoon Suk Yeol gives a speech at the opening ceremony of Seoul ADEX 2023 held at Seoul Airport in Seongnam, Gyeonggi Province on Tuesday. (Yonhap)

The US Air Force's B-52 strategic bomber, which is capable of carrying nuclear weapons, flew over Seoul and touched down at an air force base that day. The B-52 has conducted joint training with the Korean Air Force over the Korean Peninsula numerous times, but this marked its first landing at a domestic air force base.

Referring to the US military's strength, Yoon said, “You can witness firsthand the formidable capability of the Korea-US alliance, which has steadfastly defended liberal democracy through sacrifice.”

Yoon vowed to improve the global competitiveness of the defense industry by “creating an ecosystem” where it can continue to grow.

Highlighting that aerospace technology and artificial intelligence digital technology will be pivotal for success in future battlefields, he pledged to fast-track AI digital infrastructure for military operations and to fully support policies for the advancement of future air mobility technology.

Earlier, Yoon set a goal of becoming one of the top four export powers in the defense industry by achieving a 5 percent export share globally by 2027. The government has proposed the largest-ever defense export target of $20 billion this year.

According to data from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute in Sweden, Korea's share of the global arms export market from 2018 to 2022 was 2.4 percent. Korea took ninth place following the US (40 percent), Russia (16 percent), France (11 percent), China (5.2 percent), Germany (4.2 percent), Italy (3.8 percent), the UK (3.2 percent) and Spain (2.6 percent).

Initially launched as the "Seoul Air Show" in 1996, the Seoul ADEX has been held every two years to demonstrate South Korea's military capability and assets. This year’s show displayed 67 aircraft across 39 models and 39 pieces of ground equipment.