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Korean defense contractors seek opportunities at Malaysian show

KUALA LUMPUR ― South Korean defense equipment makers are seeking ways to expand their presence in the international market at this year’s Defense Services Asia in Kuala Lumpur.

Organized by Defense Services Asia Exhibition and Conference Sdn Bhd., DSA is the world’s fifth-largest defense industry show.

More than 850 companies from 42 countries are displaying their wares at the show, which ends Thursday, and the organizers expect around 25,000 people to visit the four-day event.

Korean firms are also participating in the show with seven companies and the Korea Defense Industry Association operating independent booths. The companies taking part are Daewoo Shipbuilding and Marine Engineering, armored vehicle maker Doosan DST, weapons and vehicle components maker Doosan Mottrol, Hyundai J.Comm, Kolon Industries Inc., Kolon Global and the ammunition maker Poongsan Corp.

“This exhibition is a good opportunity for introducing high quality Korean-made defense products and expanding the base for defense exports,” Defense Acquisition Program Administration Vice Commissioner Kwon Oh-bong said.

“During the event, the DAPA discussed with Malaysian officials the K-9 self-propelled gun and multipurpose logistics support vessel that we are trying to export to Malaysia. We also discussed ways to increase cooperation with other countries including the U.K., Indonesia and Pakistan.”

The more eye-catching exhibits from Korean firms include Kolon Industries’ Heracron bullet-proof material. According to the company the material is about five times stronger than the same weight of steel, and Heracron-based bullet proof equipment was currently in use in more than 50 countries. There are only two other companies in the world ― the U.S.’s DuPont and Japan’s Teijin ― that have the technology to produce materials with similar specifications.

Along with Kolon Industries, Kolon Global signed a memorandum of understanding with Malaysia’s Zecon Group to collaborate in introducing the latest equipment to the Malaysian military. In addition, Kolon Global will collaborate in Zecon Group’s construction projects.

The ammunition maker Poongsan is hoping to diversify its export portfolio. The company, which has been shipping 4 billion won ($3.5 million) worth of ammunition to Malaysia each year for the past five years, is planning to begin exporting production equipment to the Southeast Asian nation as part of its efforts to raise exports.

“This year we plan to increase exports to a record 200 billion won to 20 countries this year,” Poongsan senior vice president Park Woo-dong said.

Many of the companies taking part in the show also work with or are in talks with the Korean military.

Such companies include Sweden’s Saab and the Anglo-Italian firm Agusta Westland. Agusta Westland is competing in the Navy’s helicopter acquisition program, while Saab was among the four companies to enter the FX-III program. The FX-III program will see the introduction of new fighter jets to replace the Korean Air Force’s F-4 and F-5 fighters.

While Saab is unlikely to make further moves with regards to the FX-III program, officials say that the company may have further opportunities in Korea.

According to Saab officials, the Korean Navy has shown interest in the Skeldar unmanned aerial vehicle.

The Skeldar is a small, low-altitude UAV under development that weighs about 230 kilograms with operation radius of about 100 kilometers. The company is developing two versions of the Skeldar for maritime operations and for overland operations.

“Late last year, we met the South Korean Navy, and held a presentation. They are very interested in vehicles of this type,” said Hans Berglund, Saab’s UAV marketing director. He added that as the Korean military only purchases equipment that is fully developed, the meeting was of a preliminary nature. The land version of the Skeldar will be completed within the next six months, while the marine version will require a further six months.

Along with Korea, other countries are also hoping to increase their presence in the region’s growing defense equipment market.

Among the 42 countries represented at the show, Turkey has the largest single pavilion where 28 companies are showing there wares.

According to Necati Subasi of Turkey’s Under-secretariat for Defense Industries, the scale of Turkey’s pavilion reflects the rapid growth of Southeast Asia’s defense market.

“Southeast Asia’s defense industry market is one of the most rapidly growing in the world,” Subasi said.

“This fair is one of the best events for bringing together major players in the industry. It is not important where the event is held as it is an international event.”

Some of the companies such as the U.S.-based robot maker iRobot have also found civilian applications for their military equipment.

According to iRobot senior applications engineer Tom Battistini, nuclear power plant operators including the Korea Electric Power Corp. have seen the potential in military robots.

“Last year we sold two robots to Fukushima Daiichi plant to monitor radiation levels, and now many nuclear companies are looking more and more to employ robots not just for emergency situations to do jobs that may be dangerous for humans,” Battistini said adding that KEPCO is among the list of iRobot’s potential clients. 

By Choi He-suk, Korea Herald correspondent
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