On Sunday, South Korea and Saudi Arabia officially signed a memorandum of understanding, marking a commitment to broaden their defense cooperation, as reported by Seoul’s Defense Acquisition Program Administration (DAPA). This move comes as Seoul aims to expand its arms sales presence in the region. The agreement entails the establishment of a joint committee that will create a working group focusing on research, development, and production of weapons systems, fostering ongoing collaboration in defense, according to DAPA’s press release on Monday.
The signing ceremony was attended by South Korean Defense Minister Shin Won-sik, who was in Riyadh for the World Defense Show as part of a week-long Middle East tour, alongside his Saudi counterpart Khalid bin Salman Al Saud. While DAPA did not disclose additional details about the agreement during a media briefing on Monday, the development underscores South Korea’s efforts to enhance its position as one of the world’s leading arms suppliers, despite facing strong competition from global counterparts.
In 2022, South Korea’s arms sales surged to $17 billion, up from $7.25 billion the previous year, according to data from the defense ministry. The Korea Chamber of Commerce and Industry reported that the country’s weapons exports to the Middle East experienced a nearly tenfold increase between 2013 and 2022. Notably, companies such as Hanwha, Poongsan, and LIG Nex1 have previously secured deals with Saudi Arabia, collectively valued at around $989 million, covering multiple rocket launchers, ammunition, and electro-optical systems. A November report by the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) suggested that more deals might be in progress, highlighting South Korea’s ability to offer technologically advanced equipment alternatives at competitive prices and with shorter lead times. The report also noted a growing trend among Arab Gulf states to diversify their defense procurement sources beyond traditional Western suppliers.