North Korea and China’s growing assertiveness have compelled South Korea to enhance its military capabilities and preparedness.

The country is investing in new weapons systems, expanding military personnel, and strengthening cybersecurity infrastructure.

South Korea’s defence budget shrank to $44.2bn, at a compound annual growth rate of -8.5%, in 2022. GlobalData intelligence forecasts this to rebound to $47.1bn, at a CAGR of 7.1%, in 2024. Henceforward, the company expects steady growth as the defence budget swells to $52.1bn by 2028.

South Korea’s defence budget breakdown. Credit: GlobalData ADS intelligence centre.

Defence analyst Akash Pratim Debbarma at GlobalData comments: “South Korea’s shift in budget allocation toward acquisition budget reflects its efforts to keep pace with the evolving security challenges in the region. Although there is a temporary decrease in the defence budget, the country will make substantial investments, particularly in upgrading its air force and navy inventory.”

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By GlobalData

Current initiatives

South Korea hopes to reduce its dependence on imports. It will strengthen its aerial capabilities with the development of the KF-21 Boramae fighter jet.

The country has plans to acquire 60 units of Lockheed Martin’s F-35A and F-35B aircraft. Besides this, the completion of the KF-21 domestically is a positive step towards achieving self-sufficiency in fighter jet production.

Scheduled for 2028, the induction of the KF-21 will significantly enhance South Korea with advanced features and increased operational readiness.

Industrial self-sufficiency

“Even though South Korea seeks to reduce its reliance on imports, it is likely to continue to work closely with the US on co-production initiatives and research and development. [This] maintains peace and stability on the Korean peninsula.

“Given their mutual commitment to regional security, this partnership is expected to play a critical role in shaping the region’s security landscape in the future,” Debbarma concludes.

South Korea’s defence market has become an attractive alternative to Europe’s military platforms. While the country hopes to invest in itself, it has already made strides to coax a Eurpean consumer base.

Poland receives South Korean platforms

Poland purchased 180 South Korean K2 Black Panther main battle tanks (MBTs). The country will manufacture another 920 K2 MBTs from 2026 under a major technology sharing agreement.

This deal strengthens Poland’s security while distancing itself from standard platforms that come out of the European market.

Such standard European platforms include the German-manufactured Leopard 2A7s. The 2A7s were an option the Polish government considered until they decided to opt for the K2.

As Poland develops K2 MBTs from eastern Europe, the South Korean platform will have a foothold inside the European market for land platforms.