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Taking a Closer Look at India-Korea Defense Cooperation

Monday, September 17th, 2012

Following the historical meltdown of the Eastern bloc and the Western bloc near the end of the last century, the world order underwent drastic changes which resulted in the realignment of nations across a much more non-polarized world. As the United States emerged as the uni-polar power balance in this new world order, India’s defense strategies too underwent continual realignment with the changes occurring globally. In the past few years, with China growing in leaps and bounds and emerging as a potential power bloc, India’s defense strategies have also undergone a profound change and have realigned to meet the challenges of its nuclear-powered neighbor. Another neighbor who suffers from similar dominance of the ‘Chinese Dragon’ is South Korea.

China’s economic growth, investment in sophisticated military technology, as well as nuclear empowerment has raised several concerns in the Asia-Pacific region, especially in India and South Korea. The Beijing penchant for interfering along the Himalayan borders, transferring nuclear technology to Pakistan and forging strategic alliances with Islamabad as well as North Korea has led to understandable tensions in South Korea and India. As their economic and bilateral trade alliances strengthen with each passing year, both countries are now keen on pursuing strategic alliances as well.

Emergence of Defense Ties Between the Two Countries

The first phase of the defense alliance first emerged between India and South Korea when, in 2005, the first ever Memorandum of Understanding on Defense Logistics and Supplies was inked between the two nations.

The agreement took final shape in May 2007, when the Defense Ministers from India as well as South Korea met for the firstround of ‘discussions on matters of mutual interest.’ This historic meeting ended with a stated understanding of the exchange of military domain information as well as the building of a joint-defense technology development.

The meeting also helped to establish that both countries had the temperament to engage in and co-operate on the training of defense personnel and other military cooperation among their respective Coast Guards. The next phase of agreement took place in 2010, when the President of South Korea Lee Myung-bak and Indian Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh announced a ‘strate gic alliance’ between the two countries to encourage political as well as security co-operation.

This was followed by the Defense Minister A. K. Anthony’s visit to Seoul which resulted in the drawing up of two Memorandums of Understanding on exchange of defense expertise and technology, as well as information through joint-development of defense technology.

A New Chapter in Closer Relationships

The defense minister hoped that his visit “...will start a new chapter in our already close relationship.” Mr Kim Tae-Young also said that, “The two MOUs signed today will provide a win-win scenario for the two countries in a number of areas.”

The first MOU signed by the Defense Ministers themselves will focus on “exchange of defense-related experience and information, mutual exchange of visits by military personnel and experts, including civilian staff associated with defense services, military education and training and conduct of military exercises, exchange of visits of ships and aircraft, as jointly decided between the two countries.”

The MoU also seeks cooperation in humanitarian assistance and international peacekeeping activities. It will remain valid for a period of five years with provisions for its extension by five more years.

The second MoU was signed by the Chief Controller of Research and Development of DRDO, Dr Prahlada, and Vice Commissioner, Defense Acquisition and Procurement Agency (DAPA) of South Korea, Mr Kwon Oh Bong. To be operational under the overarching umbrella of the India-South Korea Defense Agreement, the MoU aims at identifying futuristic defense technology areas of mutual interest and pursuing R&D projects in both countries.

It also envisages co- development and co-production of defense products with the Indian industry through DRDO. There will be joint IPR on all the products developed through this mechanism. Some areas of immediate interest: e.g., marine systems, electronics and intelligent systems have been identified as priority tasks.

Until recently, India and South Korea had restricted themselves to importing the ‘Sukanya’ series of defense vessels (‘OPV’, or offshore Petrol Vessels) from ‘Tacoma’ in the decade of 1980, along with a few joint naval exercises.

In fact, India’s and South Korea’s defense alliance has greatly revolved around navy capabilities, as there have been several joint operations related to navy equipment. India’s navy is placed fifth in the world order;, though its naval capacities are indeed limited by lack of proper domestic production and fragmented sourcing from foreign productions.

The Indian navy’s strategic depth will be defined by its sophisticated equipment and technologies. Maritime capabilities in India are now being re-defined by the acquisition of more than 160 ships, 60 or more major combatant vessels, around three aircraft carriers, submarines, and 400 or more aircraft by 2022.

Both India and Korea are also keen on attracting big-budget investments in naval productions, whether ships, aircraft for Indian manufacturers or joint ventures with foreign know-how.

The Ambassador to India, Kim JoongKeun, in December 2011 said that India is expecting to spend US$100 billion for the modernization of its defense sector and for making new acquisitions in the following half decade.

The Indian government has also finalized on a Korean firm to provide eight or more minesweepers for its armory. Additionally, several other Korean companies have been shortlisted for the wide-spread modernization program the country is soon to commence.

The Ambassador wished that, “these firms were successful in order to set the beginning of long-term defense cooperation between the two countries.’’

Stronger Ties Following Indian Prime Minister’s Visit

2009-2012 have been watershed years in India and Korean relationships. With the Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement, all facets of bilateral trade between the two countries have grown by over 65 percent, said the Prime Minister, during his historic visit to Seoul to participate in the Nuclear Security Summit in March of this year.

The Prime Minister, as well as his highprofile delegation, proved to be successful in meeting business representatives from various industries and reaching out to their concerns about the ‘lack of procedural effectiveness’, or ‘official apathy’, at converting high-budget investments in India in profitable projects.

The Prime Minister himself appealed to Korean investors that they should continue to have faith in India, as the government and its people find rapid solutions to growing dissidence to the start of projects with Foreign Direct Investment.

The leaders from both nations also assured that they would continue to strive for regional peace and balance, despite an arms race happening in the local neighborhood. This was in reference to the proposed nuclear weapon deployment, or ‘launcher’, by North Korea with technical know-how having come from China.

Both leaders were categorical that their respective nations were committed to maintaining regional security balances and would not indulge in irresponsible behavior, despite adequate provocations from neighbors.

Yet President Lee also highlighted Korea’s desire to increase “the degree of cooperation with India in the military and defense industry.” New trade opportunities are hereby opening up for the “manufacture of hardware, including naval ships and aircraft.”

The Prime Minister has also extended India’s space technology expertise to Korea and proposed that “India would offer to launch Korean satellites on Indian space launch vehicles.”

The countries were emphatic that the increased intensity of their relationship would not affect their individual relations with other countries, viz-a-viz China. Speaking for the government, Sanjay Singh was quick to ascertain that, “Our relations with every country stand on their own merit and are not predicated on relations with any other country.” This statement was made to assuage continued media concerns that the closeness between India and South Korea would actually worry or provoke China.

Thus a new phase of the defense industry and trade between India and South Korea has been entered. Currently, both countries are keen that Korea’s military equipment and hardware technology be adopted for Indian defense. India has already increased its budget allocation for the present financial year 2012-13 to US$41 billion, an increase of 17 percent growth over the previous year’s budget.

India’s demand for military products provides a lucrative market. Several overseas companies supply nearly 70 percent of the imports the country needs. It is the secondranked importer of arms after China.

South Korea’s evolved arms industry is surely well positioned to meet India’s defense equipment and arms needs. It is already able to meet nearly 70 percent of its own needs and has become an established weapons systems supplier.

Seoul, in fact, has set a target of selling, “three billion dollars worth of arms in order to become one of the world’s top ten arms exporters by 2012.” The K-11 airburst assault rifle, as well as the K-21, which is the latest generation of infantry vehicle, is superior to the American-made M2 Bradley infantry fighting vehicle.

South Korea also has a sophisticated Aegis combat system, which “uses powerful computers and radars to track and guide weapons to destroy enemy targets.”

Furthermore, the road ahead for a fruitful defense trade association between Korea and India has already been well-established by the ‘minesweeper contract’ (with just one of these ships costing US$670 million), placed with ‘Kanganam Corporation’, a South Korean firm.

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