January 9, 2010:
While North Korean arms exports get all the headlines, as well as getting outlawed and seized at sea and in airports, the other Korea has become a powerhouse in legal sales of weapons. South Korea exported $1.17 billion worth of military gear last year. That's up ten percent over 2008. South Korean weapons exports are believed to be several times what North Korea sells. South Korea expects to enter the big league (the top 10) of weapons exporters in the next few years. This will be propelled by sales of the new South Korean T-50 jet trainer. This aircraft was developed over the last decade, at a cost of over two billion dollars. The first test flight of the T-50 took place in 2002. The 13 ton aircraft is actually a light fighter, and can fly at supersonic speeds. With some added equipment (radars and fire control), the T-50 can be quickly turned into a combat aircraft, the A-50. This version carries a 20mm auto-cannon and up to four tons of smart bombs and missiles. The T-50 can stay in the air about four hours per sortie and has a service life of 8,000 hours in the air. South Korea apparently has several large sales deals in the works. At $20 million each, the T-50 is one of the more competitive jet trainers on the market. About 100-150 of these aircraft are bought each year by the world's air forces. In addition, the A-50 version is a very competitive light combat aircraft as well.
Meanwhile, South Korea offers a wide array of weapons, including modern tanks and infantry vehicles, along with infantry weapons and electronics. South Korean firms are also developing military robots and sensors. South Korea expects to be exporting $3 billion worth of weapons by 2012.
The United States and Russia are the largest exporters of weapons, together accounting for about 70 percent of some $60 billion in world sales. Traditionally, the U.S. sold nearly three times as much as Russia, but that has fluctuated over the last decade. There is more effort by the Russians to not just sell on price, but also on service and warranties. Most of the cost of a new weapon comes during the lifetime (often a decade or more) of use. In the past, Russia had a bad reputation for support, and lost a lot of those "after-market" sales of maintenance services and spare parts. The U.S. was much better in that respect, but much more expensive. Now the Russians not only have the price advantage (often half, or less, the cost of equivalent American weapons), but an improving reputation for providing good service. The Russians are also selling more high tech, and expensive, warships. For many years, warplanes comprised about two thirds of Russian sales, but now, about half the sales were for warships.