U.S., South Korea Seek New Defense Tech Partnerships

By Mikayla Easley
An F-16 Fighting Falcon flies during a joint exercise with U.S. and South Korean forces.

Air Force photo by Sgt. Nick Wilson

South Korea is looking to expand its alliance with Washington to include defense technology development.

The United States has long seen South Korea as a strategic military partner in the Indo-Pacific. As the Pentagon seeks to address instability in the area and accelerate its defense programs to match Chinese technological advancements, it should broaden its alliance with Seoul to include more industry and government collaboration, said retired Gen. Robert Brown, president and CEO of the Association of the United States Army.

“The world has gotten much more complex and dangerous than it has ever been, and it calls for more innovative cooperation than ever before,” Brown said in February during a conference co-hosted by Washington, D.C.-based think tank the Center for Strategic and International Studies and Korea’s Defense Acquisition Program Administration, or DAPA.

South Korea’s geographic position in Northeast Asia makes it not only an epicenter of trade, but also creates overlapping geopolitical interests between it and the United States, Brown said.

Additionally, the race for dominance in the development of emerging technologies — such as artificial intelligence, 5G capabilities, robotics, biotechnology and leveraging data — is key to ensuring stability in the Indo-Pacific, he added.

South Korea’s commercial industries have made technological strides that the United States should tap into for the growth and development of its own defense industry, said Kang Eun-ho, minister of DAPA. The defense sector could leverage South Korean companies such as Samsung, Hanwha and LG, he noted.

South Korea’s industry can also ease the United States’ supply chain woes in acquiring semiconductors and secondary batteries, Kang noted.

In addition, Seoul’s government has demonstrated its capacity for research and development, Kang said. The nation is pushing for the advancement of certain capabilities that align with the U.S. Defense Department’s top R&D priorities, including AI, quantum computing and autonomous technologies.

South Korean officials need more information sharing on how exactly the two partners can effectively collaborate between overlapping defense and commercial sectors in order to create a “win-win situation for both countries,” Kang said. This could include South Korea filling U.S. research-and-development gaps and the United States funding new technology already in South Korea, he said.

However, both Brown and Kang acknowledged there are potential challenges for full defense interoperability. Bureaucratic barriers related to cybersecurity, intellectual property and export licensing requirements need to be addressed.

“When it comes to making concrete, cooperative results — where we have engagement from government, but also industry — we need to be willing to take certain risks,” Kang said.

Topics: Global Defense Market

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