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South Korean soldiers seen at an expo. The country is seeking to grow its defence exports. Photo: Bloomberg

UAE eyes US$3.5 billion deal for South Korean missiles as Seoul pushes defence exports

  • The planned sale of South Korea’s M-SAM medium-range air defence missile system is reportedly in ‘advanced stages of negotiations’
  • The deal comes as Seoul seeks to expand the market for its defence systems beyond a domestic need to counter threats from the nuclear-armed North Korea
South Korea

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) has said it plans to purchase South Korean-made mid-range surface-to-air missiles in a deal worth US$3.5 billion, a major boon to the East Asian country’s defence exports.

The UAE’s Ministry of Defence on Tuesday tweeted that it planned to acquire the missile, known as M-SAM, which it said would “constitute a qualitative addition to the capabilities of the national air defence”.

An official at South Korea’s Defence Acquisition Program Administration (DAPA) declined to comment. “We have nothing to comment on a deal which is still under negotiation,” he said.

Gulf Today quoted Tariq Abdul Rahim Al Hosani, CEO of the Tawazun Economic Council, as saying that the UAE had reached “very advanced stages in negotiations with the Korean side and are close to concluding a final agreement” to acquire the Korean Air Defence System (MSAM)”.

“The two sides agreed to develop the system according to the operational requirements of the Air Force and Air Defence of the UAE,” he said, according to the newspaper.

The M-SAM system is considered one of the latest medium-range air defence missile systems and one of the most advanced in the world, it said.

Tawazun Economic Council is currently managing the procurement and contracts of the UAE Ministry of Defence.

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South Korea’s M-SAM, also known as Cheongung (Heaven’s Bow), is a medium-range surface-to-air missile system developed by the Agency for Defence Development with technical support from Russia.

Cheongung, which can intercept targets up to an altitude of 15km at a range of 40km, constitutes the middle tier of South Korea’s three-tier aerial and missile defence system.

“This deal is a major boost to South Korea’s defence industry at a time when it needs to find a niche in the global market to keep afloat,” said Lee Il-woo, a defence analyst at the Korea Defence Network.

“Its domestic market is too narrow for the defence industry to have an economy of scale,” he said, adding that the country was almost pulling alongside advanced countries in aerial defence missile technology.

The planned sale comes as South Korea is striving to build its defence industry as a major currency earner beyond the domestic need to counter threats from the nuclear-armed North Korea.

Presiding over a rare meeting to discuss ways to promote defence industry in September, President Moon Jae-in said the government planned to ease regulations and provide the sector with financial support and diplomatic efforts to nurture it as a key export industry.

He told a military expo in the outskirts of Seoul last month that South Korea, which he said has been catching up fast with advanced countries in the global defence market, should now seek to become a defence industry leader.

Pointing to the FA-50, he praised the home-grown system. “I could feel the dashing dignity of the FA-50, which we’ve developed with our own technologies,” Moon said at the time.

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South Korea plans to spend more than 80 per cent of its acquisition budget on domestic supplies and to quadruple support for parts localisation by 2026, with a focus on areas that could shape future wars, including AI, drones, robotics and space, he said.

“We envision a smart yet strong military based on advanced science and technology, and promote peace together with the international community,” Moon added.

South Korea’s arms exports from 2016-2020 were 210 per cent higher than from 2011–2015, according to Stockholm International Peace Research Institute data.

The country is also one of the largest arms importers in the world, buying major weapons systems such as American-made F-35 stealth fighter jets in recent years.

Additional reporting by Reuters

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: Seoul close to deal to sell anti-aircraft missiles to UAE