S. Korea aims to become world's largest arms dealer

STORY: South Korea is racing to become a major player in the world’s market for weapons, eager to tap into Europe’s hunger for arms.

At this factory on its southern coast, automated robots and workers are churning out artillery vehicles destined for Poland.

It's all run by Hanwha Aerospace, already the globe’s top maker of howitzers.

The company is a big part of the $14 billion-dollar arms deal that the South Korean government struck with Poland last year - as Western countries scrambled to arm Ukraine and tensions spike in areas from North Korea to the South China Sea.

Reuters spoke to more than a dozen executives and officials who say the deal will pave the way for Seoul’s ambitions to be a world-class weapons supplier.

Hanwha Aerospace director Oh Kyeahwan:

"The Czech Republic, Romania, Slovakia, Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and others were thinking of buying defense products only in Europe, but now it is more well known that you can buy at a low price and have it delivered quickly from South Korean companies too."

The deal was the country’s biggest-ever of its kind, and it promised hundreds of domestically designed rocket launchers, the howitzers, tanks and fighter jets.

All of which are designed to be compatible with U.S. and NATO systems.

Polish officials say South Korea’s offer to make weapons faster than almost anyone was a key consideration.

Constant tensions with North Korea mean the South’s arms production is always up and running and continuously being upgraded.

Oskar Pietrewicz, an analyst in Poland, contrasts that with Germany, another major arms supplier.

“Countries' interest in South Korea's offer may only grow considering the limited production capacity of Germany's defence industry, which is major arms supplier in the region. And for example, in 2018 Hungary has ordered 44 Leopard tanks from Germany and so far, none has been delivered."

South Korean officials told Reuters they have pitched Warsaw in producing their weapons within Poland for easier delivery.

However, Poland's Ministry of National Defense did not respond to a written request for comment.

Last month, South Korea’s President Yoon Suk-Yeol told Reuters that his country may extend support to Ukraine beyond humanitarian and economic aid if it comes under wide-scale civilian attack.

Since then, his government has approved use of at least some South Korean weapons components in Ukraine.