Seoul Air Show Opens
Korean Weapons Systems Draw Global Attention
By Jung Sung-ki
The biennial Seoul Air Show, officially named the Seoul International Aerospace & Defense Exhibition (ADEX) 2009, the seventh of its kind since 1996, is to be held from today to Oct. 25 at Seoul Airport in Seongnam, Gyeonggi Province.
This year's show has been designed to include the exhibition of ground weapons systems in a bid to attract more attention from the world's defense procurement officials. Previously, the annual "Defense Asia" festival organized by the Army showcased ground weapons systems.
"This year's show is the biggest since 1996 as a total of 271 defense firms from 26 countries are participating in the exhibition and about 300,000 people, including 30,000 businessmen, are expected to visit the show this week," the office of the Seoul ADEX 2009 said.
The number of visiting VIPs, including military chiefs and procurement representatives, has also doubled to 81 from 47 nations, it said.
Among the high-profile attendants are Polish Defense Minister Bogdan Klich, Malaysian Army Chief of Staff Gen. Tan Sri Muhammad Ismail Bin Hijamaluddin, German Air Force Chief of Staff Klaus Peter Stieglitz and Murad Bayar, undersecretary of Turkey's Defense Industries.
Defense systems on display include the C-17 Globemaster transport aircraft and AH-64 Apache Longbow attack helicopter built by the Boeing Company; the C-130J Hercules transport aircraft of Lockheed Martin and a mockup of the Global Hawk unmanned aerial vehicle of Northrop Grumman.
Other exhibits include the world's largest commercial airplane, the A-380 built by Airbus.
The show will be open to the pubic this weekend, following the four-day "Business Day" exhibition.
Global attention to home-developed weapons systems has been increasing "slowly but surely," as local arms manufactures have successfully developed and produced world-class defense goods in recent years.
The government aims to triple defense sales to $3 billion by 2012 and become one of the world's top 10 weapons exporters.
Last year, South Korean firms sold about $1 billion in weapons and defense systems, up 22 percent from the previous year's $840 million, the largest amount since the country first exported defense items, mostly rifle ammunition amounting to $470,000.
"Made-in-Korea defense products have already secured substantial competitiveness in the global market, and foreign buyers are paying more and more attention to them," Col. Lee Hyun-soo at the Defense Acquisition Program Administration (DAPA)'s bureau for overseas arms exports told The Korea Times.
"As pan-government efforts to promote local defense goods in the world market have been made since 2006 when the DAPA was established, Korean products' reputation has grown to a greater extent."
For example, he noted, South American nations, which had previously not been well aware of South Korea, are now showing keen interest in buying Korean defense systems, which have both high performance and price competitiveness.
"It's like we're engaged in a battle on two fronts: one with advanced nations over technology and the other with growing arms exporters, such as China, over price competitiveness," he added. "But the prospects for South Korean arms sales abroad are bright since the country has a competitive edge in both areas."
This year's Seoul Air Show will offer a good opportunity to further promote and market local weapons systems abroad, said the official.
Among them, the K-2 Black Panther main battle tank and the T-50 Golden Eagle supersonic trainer jet are expected to be key export items in helping Korea attain its sales goal of $3 billion by 2012.
Last year, the DAPA signed a $400 million contract with Turkey over the transfer of technology on the K1A1 and K2 tanks.
The amphibious K2, jointly built by the state-funded Agency for Defense Development (ADD) and Hyundai Rotem, a unit of Hyundai Motor, is considered to have better performances than the U.S. M1A2 SEP and the French Leclerc tanks, in terms of fire power and mobility.
Under the deal, South Korea is to help Turkey develop a semi-indigenous main battle tank by 2015 by providing more than 60 percent of the technology required.
Ready for Competition
The T-50, jointly built by Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI) and Lockheed Martin of the United States, is competing for trainer jet deals in Singapore, the United States, Poland, Iraq, Greece and other countries.
The single-engine Golden Eagle jet features digital flight controls and a modern, ground-based training system. It is designed to have the maneuverability, endurance and systems to prepare pilots to fly next-generation fighters such as the Eurofighter Typhoon, the F-22 Raptor, the Rafale and the F-35 Lightening II.
The jet has a top speed of Mach 1.4 and an operational range of 1,851 kilometers.
The T-50 can also be easily transformed into a light attack version equipped with advanced armament, including the Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM) and AGM-65 Maverick air-to-surface missiles.
KAI, South Korea's only aircraft maker, has already put its name on the world map when it sold 17 KT-1 Woongbi basic trainer jets to Indonesia between 2001 and 2008 and sealed a $500 million deal with Turkey in 2007 to export 40 KT-1T modified aircraft.
A rollout ceremony for the first KT-1T will be held during the air show.
Other major indigenous weapons systems include KAI's Surion utility helicopter jointly developed by Eurocopter; the Cheongsangeo precision-guided light torpedo; the Shingung portable ground-to-air weapon; the K-30 Biho self-propelled 30mm anti-aircraft gun co-developed by LIG Nex1 and the ADD; and the K21 next-generation infantry fighting vehicle co-developed by Doosan DST and ADD.