The arms trade: Japan and Korea change directions


Korean submarine

TOKYO (majirox news) — Indonesia recently signed a contract worth about 1.2 billion dollars with South Korea to buy three submarines.

“The Indonesian government has stipulated the need for at least six to 12 submarines to attain the ‘minimum essential forces,” wrote Ristian Supriyanto, a research analyst in Maritime Security at Nanyang Technical University in Singapore.

Supriyanto added that China’s increased assertiveness in the South China Sea has set off an arms race. Submarines are on order — or under discussion — in Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam and the Philippines. Vietnam, for example, has already ordered 10-kilo class submarines from Russia.

A major beneficiary of the surge in submarine orders is South Korea. South Korea has already supplied naval equipment to Indonesia and other nations in the region. It appears inevitable that South Korean influence will increase, perhaps at the expense of Japan.

South Korea is apparently poised to accomplish, through arms sales, breakthroughs into high tech fields that Japan is clearly struggling to gain entry to, particularly aerospace.

At the same time that Indonesia announced it would buy three submarines, Korea emerged as the probable winner to supply the Israeli Air Force with its next generation of supersonic trainers. South Korea’s T 50 supersonic trainer, nicknamed “F-16 lite,” appears to have edged out all other competitors.

“Israel will initially be buying 25 to 30 aircraft,” reports the Jerusalem Post. “Israeli defense industries are also currently seeking over $500 million worth of armament contracts from South Korea.” Israel recently sold its Spike NLOS missiles to South Korea for installation on the Yellow Sea islands that were attacked by North Korea in 2010.

South Korea has quietly emerged as the leading arms exporter in Asia after China. Exports are in the range of 12 billion dollars yearly. This still trails China, which is estimated to have exports in the 20 to 40 billion-dollar range yearly, but keeps the figures secret. South Korea is now among one of the 10 top arms-exporting countries in the world.

Japan has no arms exports to speak of. Under Japanese law, export of armaments of any type is strictly forbidden. “The fact that Japanese arms exports are under these limitations,” says a South Korean Defense Ministry specialist, speaking off the record, “gives our share a chance to grow.”

Nowhere is the growth of this share more prominent, perhaps than in the aerospace industry. Both South Korea and Japan have ambitions to open up new high-tech areas of export, such as nuclear reactors and aviation. However, arguably, South Korea has it easier. South Korea is selling into the highly competitive but limited field of military aviation, where there may be only one or two possible competitors worldwide.

“Japan is restricted to civilian aircraft and is trying to go it head on against Bombardier and Embraer, two of the largest and most successful aircraft companies in the world,” says a Tokyo-based airline consultant. “With Russia’s Sukhoi already successful with 300 orders outstanding, and Chinese as well as possibly even Indian airliners poised in the wings, Mitsubishi has its job cut out for it.”

The Mitsubishi Regional Jet has 70 firm orders and plans are for a maiden flight sometime in 2012. By comparison, South Korea’s T 50 supersonic jet trainer is being used in Korea and Indonesia and looks like it also will be adopted by Israel. Talks are at various stages of progress with Iraq, Poland, the Philippines, Spain and the United States.

In the eyes of some businesspeople, South Korea outweighs China as a competitor of Japan. Japanese observers of South Korea can see that it has chosen a course clearly different from that of Japan, and in direct competition with it. South Korea now has free trade zones with the EU and the USA; it is competing directly against Japan in high tech exports, and it also has the growing dimension of military exports to add to the mix.

South Korea, which once seemed to slavishly copy Japanese models of development, has now split off in an entirely different direction from Japan. It is as though a mirror once held up to Japan so that it could see itself in is now broken. What remains then is the question: Koreans no longer find Japanese policies valid for Korea, but do Japanese still find them valid for Japan?

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