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S. Korea, UAE agree to forge strategic defense industry cooperation

Jan. 16, 2023 - 15:11 By Ji Da-gyum


South Korean Minister of the Defense Acquisition Program Administration, Eom Dong-hwan (L), and Secretary General of the Tawazun Council of the United Arab Emirates, Tareq Abdulraheem Al Hosani pose for a photo at a ceremony of signing a memorandum of understanding held on Sunday at the presidential palace in Abu Dhabi, UAE. (Yonhap)
The arms procurement agencies of South Korea and the United Arab Emirates have signed a deal to strategically and substantially enhance defense industry cooperation, which has paved the way for South Korean defense contractors to expand their export horizons to the UAE.

South Korean Minister of the Defense Acquisition Program Administration, Eom Dong-hwan, and Secretary General of the UAE’s Tawazun Council, Tareq Abdulraheem Al Hosani, signed a memorandum of understanding on “strategic defense industry cooperation” on Sunday in Abu Dhabi, the DAPA announced Monday.

President Yoon Suk Yeol — who made his first state visit to the UAE as a South Korean leader — and Emirati leader Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan were present at the signing ceremony.

“The Defense Acquisition Program Administration and the Tawazun Council responsible for UAE defense acquisitions will continue efforts for joint investment and research as well as technology development to further develop cooperation in the fields of defense industry and defense technology based on the signed memorandum of understanding,” the DAPA said.

“We expect that the signing of the memorandum will solidify the ‘special strategic partnership’ between the Republic of Korea and the UAE and contribute to enhancing substantial defense industry cooperation between the agencies in charge of arms procurement,” it added.

The main goal of the memorandum is to give shape to strategic defense industry cooperation. Both sides seek to specify the scope of cooperation, establish a working group, exchange information on defense technology, and cooperate on technology transfer.

South Korea’s DAPA and the UAE Ministry of Defense previously signed the memorandum to “draw up mid- and long-term plans leading to joint research and development” in January 2022, the DAPA told The Korea Herald.

“But the memorandum signed this year holds different significance given that the memorandum aims to develop specific cooperation with the UAE arms procurement agency.”

The DAPA also underscored that South Korea “will be able to expand its export horizons to export air defense, guided weapon systems and airborne weapon systems based on the trust of both countries.”

In January 2022, South Korea exported M-SAM surface-to-air missiles -- also called “Cheongung II” — that can defend military and industrial facilities against enemy air attacks to the UAE. The UAE also clandestinely purchased Chunmoo multiple rocket launchers from South Korea.

The UAE, which strives to build up air defense systems against missile and drone attacks targeting oil facilities, has also reportedly shown interest in acquiring the L-SAM long-range surface-to-air missile. The L-SAM has been indigenously developed by South Korean defense contractors.

Kim Ji-chan, CEO and President of LIG Nex1, which plays a pivotal role in developing the L-SAM, also accompanied Yoon on his state visit to the UAE.

Korea Aerospace Industries and the UAE Tawazun Council on Sunday also signed a memorandum on co-developing a multi-purpose transport aircraft.

Both sides agreed to flesh out details on operating a center together for international joint development of transport aircraft to strengthen mid- to long-term cooperation between the two countries in the defense industry, including the scope and ways of cooperation.

The UAE defense minister notably expressed interest in the main weapons system developed by the KAI such as T-50 Golden Eagle jet trainers, KF-21 fighter jets and light armed helicopters during his visit to South Korea in 2022.

President Yoon Suk Yeol meets with South Korean troops of the Akh unit in Abu Dhabi on Sunday.(Yonhap)
History of defense cooperation
South Korea and the UAE have redoubled efforts to reinforce military cooperation and boost defense industry cooperation in recent years.

For the first time in September 2022, South Korea’s Air Force participated in the annual multilateral Falcon Shield exercise, which is led by the UAE and aims to test and improve the synergy of air and missile defense capabilities among the US and allied partners.

Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Jung Sang-hwa also observed the first live-fire drills of launching the M-SAM during his visit to the UAE in December last year.

In the same month, Army Chief of Staff Gen. Park Jeong-hwan traveled to the UAE and visited the site where Chunmoo MLRS is operated. Park discussed with officials there a wide range of defense cooperation, including South Korea’s follow-up measures for supporting the operation and ways to expand combined military exercises.

South Korea and the UAE, however, have a long story of developing their military and security cooperation.

Since 2011, South Korea and the UAE have held defense-ministerial and vice-defense-ministerial meetings on a yearly basis to discuss pending issues and seek ways to further develop military and defense industry cooperation.

The UAE is notably the only foreign country where South Korea has dispatched an overseas unit for the purpose of military cooperation.

The Akh unit, which President Yoon visited on Sunday, has been carrying out various missions including providing education and training for the UAE special forces to enhance combat capabilities and conducting combined exercises with the UAE special forces in Abu Dhabi since its establishment in 2011.

The South Korean military underscored that the Akh unit “plays the role of bridging the two countries to enhance military and defense industry cooperation.” Akh means “brother” in Arabic.

“The security of our brother country is our security,” Yoon told the Akh unit. “The UAE's enemy, the most threatening country, is Iran, and our enemy is North Korea. … We and the UAE are in very similar positions.”