By Rachel Lee
South Korea was the world's biggest arms importer last year, according to a U.S. congressional study on the global arms trade.
The Congressional Research Service annual report shows that the government bought arms and defense equipment worth 9.1 trillion won ($7.8 billion) last year.
Iraq was the second-largest buyer with 8.5 trillion won ($7.3 billion) because the country is building up its military infrastructure in the wake of the American troop withdrawal. Brazil was third with 7.6 trillion won ($6.5 billion) spent on purchases of weaponry.
About 8.2 trillion won ($7 billion) of South Korea's contracts were made with the United States, including transport helicopters and related support, and advanced unmanned aerial surveillance vehicles.
South Korea was ranked fourth in a study conducted the previous year.
South Korea faces a nuclear-armed North Korea across the world's most heavily fortified border. The two sides are still technically at war because the 1950-53 Korean War ended in a truce, not a peace treaty.
Additional to the sharp increase in arms purchases is the country's KF-X project to develop indigenous fighter jets.
In September last year, South Korea signed an offset deal with Lockheed Martin_ a transfer of 25 technologies was included in return for the nation's purchase of 40 F-35s. Seoul was planning to use such technologies in its KF-X project, which was set up to develop indigenous fighter jets by 2025 in order to replace the Air Force's aging F-4s and F-5s. The nation plans to build 120 jets.
However in April, the U.S. government refused to allow Lockheed to hand over four core technologies, including the active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar, for security reasons.
According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, South Korea was the world's fourth-largest arms importer from 2010 to 2014, taking up 3 percent of international arms imports. It was third from 2005 and 2009, consuming 6 percent of the world's total imports, and was also the largest customer for weapons systems.
The nation's defense equipment exports totaled approximately 3.9 trillion won ($3.4 billion) in 2013, according to government data.
Despite a stagnant international weapons market and increased competition among suppliers, American foreign weapons receipts rose from about 31.2 trillion won ($26.7 billion) to 42.4 trillion won ($36.2 billion) last year, the report says.
The U.S. was the biggest arms exporter last year, accounting for more than 50 percent of global arms exports, followed by Russia, with roughly 12 trillion won ($10.2 billion) in sales.
Sweden was third with about 6.4 trillion won ($5.5 billion) in sales, followed by France and China with 5.3 trillion won ($4.4 billion) 2.6 trillion won ($2.2 billion), respectively.