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S.Korea, Australia agree to revive MOU on defense industry cooperation

Australia signs $720m weapons deal, first major deal with Asian country

Kang Eun-ho (L), head of South Korea`s Defense Program Acquisition Administration, and his Australian counterpart, Tony Fraser, sign a memorandum of understanding on defense industry and material cooperation at the Parliament House in Canberra on Dec. 13. (Yonhap)
Kang Eun-ho (L), head of South Korea`s Defense Program Acquisition Administration, and his Australian counterpart, Tony Fraser, sign a memorandum of understanding on defense industry and material cooperation at the Parliament House in Canberra on Dec. 13. (Yonhap)
South Korea and Australia on Monday agreed to revive a bilateral agreement on enhancing defense industrial cooperation after a 10-year gap, and finalized a multimillion-dollar weapons contract.

The two countries signed a new memorandum of understanding on the defense industry and materials cooperation, South Korea’s Defense Acquisition Program Administration said Monday.

“This provides an opportunity for Australia and South Korea to grow into each other’s strategic partner and establish the foundation for vitalizing bilateral defense industrial cooperation which began during the Korean War,” South Korea’s DAPA said in a written statement.

Both countries concluded the negotiations during South Korean President Moon Jae-in’s state visit to Australia, which came as the two countries marked the 60th anniversary of establishing diplomatic relations this year.

South Korean Minister of Defense Acquisition Kang Eun-ho and Australian Deputy Secretary of Capability Acquisition and Sustainment Group Tony Fraser inked the agreement in Canberra, with the attendance of Moon and Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison.

As a result, Australia’s arms procurement agency CASG and its South Korean counterpart DAPA have become each country’s “official channel” to facilitate defense industrial cooperation and materials collaboration.

Enhanced defense industry cooperation 
Notably, Monday’s signing has significance given that South Korea and Australia agreed to revive the bilateral agreement on defense industry cooperation a decade after the previous such agreement ended.

South Korea and Australia previously signed a memorandum of understanding aimed at enhancing defense industry cooperation in 2001, but it expired in 2011.

DAPA said both countries saw the necessity to sign the new agreement due to the “changed environment,” including a reshuffle of organizations in charge of defense industry cooperation.

Both countries also agreed to hold a meeting of the Joint Defense Industry and Material Committee regularly and strengthen government-level cooperation in supporting exports of military equipment.

South Korea and Australia have strived to pave the way to reinvigorate defense industrial engagement and material collaboration since Moon and Morrison officially discussed ways to strengthen defense and security cooperation at the summit in September 2019.

In September, South Korean Defense Minister Suh Wook and his Australian counterpart Peter Dutton also reaffirmed that “leveraging on the strengths of each other’s domestic defense industrial bases would contribute to their security and resilience in meeting future security challenges“ at the 2+2 talks.

The meeting of the Joint Defense Industry and Material Committee between the two countries conspicuously resumed this July, seven years since the last gathering in 2014.
K9 Thunder Self-propelled Howitzer (Hanwha Defense)
K9 Thunder Self-propelled Howitzer (Hanwha Defense)
AU$1 billion defense deal
On the same day, Australia signed a defense contract worth 1 billion Australian dollars ($720 million) with South Korea’s Hanwha Defense for supplying 30 self-propelled howitzers and 15 armored ammunition resupply vehicles.

The Australian government said it would also procure “weapon-locating radars that help find enemy artillery” from Hanwha Defense.

More importantly, Monday’s contract also marks the first major defense acquisition by Australia from an Asian country. Australia’s local media said this was believed to be the largest defense deal with an Asian country.

Hanwha Defense said Australia also became the first member country of the Five Eyes intelligence alliance and seventh country in the world to procure the K-9 Thunder self-propelled howitzer.

But the vehicles will be locally manufactured at a new facility to be constructed around Geelong in the state of Victoria.

The defense contract was announced around 15 months after Hanwha Defense Australia was selected as a preferred supplier to the Australian Army for the “Huntsman family” of vehicles in September last year.

Prime Minister Morrison on Monday underscored the significance of the arms procurement contract, which he witnessed in person with President Moon.

“Our Comprehensive Strategic Partnership with the Republic of Korea is underpinned by our joint commitment to defense and security cooperation,” Morrison said. “The contract with Hanwha demonstrates the value of industrial collaboration in supporting our countries in addressing mutual security challenges.”

The Australian government has pushed forward the project of procuring the Huntsman AS9 self-propelled artillery system and AS10 armored resupply vehicles under the LAND 8116 Phase 1 project, as part of its effort to modernize the Australian Army.

“The prime ability of the new vehicles is to fire and move quickly, avoiding enemy counterattack. This project will mean a significant increase in the level of firepower and security for Australian artillery capability,” Defense Minister Dutton said.

The South Korean minister of defense acquisition said the two countries also agreed to discuss ways to enhance interoperability between each country’s weapons systems upon this opportunity.

By Ji Da-gyum (
Korea Herald Youtube