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South Korea is Keen To Be The Part of India’s Defence Industrial Corridors: Defence Minister Song Young-Moo

In an interview with BW Businessworld, Minister of National Defense of the Republic of Korea, Song Young-moo discusses about the challenges of building an indigenous defence ecosystem and more

Photo Credit : BW Businessworld Photo Bureau

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Minister of National Defense of the Republic of Korea, Song Young-moo

Minister of National Defense of the Republic of Korea, Song Young-moo visits India on 9th August to deepen the cooperation in defence and security under the New Southern Policy. Korea has faced the similar challenges of building an indigenous defence ecosystem amidst the constant regional threats around. Korea defence industry is step ahead in building sophisticated military hardware and reaches among world’s top exporter. Several issues are on the table with India which include the scope of cooperation for 12 mine counter measure vessels (MCMVs) to the proposed induction of trainer aircraft KT-1 of Korean Aircraft Industries in the Indian Air Force. BW Businessworld’s Defence Editor Manish Kumar Jha discusses in an exclusive interview with S. Korea’s defence minister in New Delhi.  

The ROK has created a robust arms industry over the years, indigenizing as far as 70% of their military hardware. How did you achieve the scale in terms of technology and production in South Korea? 
In just half a century, Republic of Korea has gone from a military aid recipient that could not even make a rifle to a country that can produce and export high-tech weapons systems for ground, air and naval forces such as the K-9 Artillery Systems, Aegis Systems and the T-50 Advanced Trainer. The firm commitment among the government agencies, military, research institutes and the industry, to achieve the shared goal of technology development, was what set the conditions for Korea to be the leading nation in defense industry. This commitment served as the foundation upon which the Korean Government implemented a full-spectrum of policy that established the conditions for the researchers and the industry to fully focus on developing technology. The researchers and the defense industry firms held a sense of duty to complete their research as they threw their full efforts into the mission. The research labs' lights, which never went out, became the beacon that led Korea to today's prosperity. Furthermore, we are not going to stop here; we are continuing to innovate and develop a new generation of defense technology. Through these innovations, we are preparing for the future battlefield with our foundation in cutting-edge weapons system such as drones and robotics.

South Korea's growing defence industry has a huge potential to contribute to the needs of Asia-Pacific nations as they can explore more in regionally produced weapons systems in terms of reach and cost. It will also broaden the scope of buying necessary components beyond the traditional Western and Russian imports. What is your government outlook on this? And, Korean defence industry is well positioned to meet many of India’s military needs. What is the current status of Indo-Korean defence partnerships? 
In preparation for the Asia-Pacific Era, the Korean Government is pursuing the "New Southern Policy," which aims to construct future partnerships for people, mutual prosperity and peace. Under this new policy stance, the Korean Ministry of National Defense is establishing a new form of defense industry cooperation with South Asian countries. As such, we are hoping to closely cooperate with India as a key partner. President Moon Jae-in said the following words at the State Council following his visit to India on the importance of developing relationship with India. “India is an economy with over 1 billion people and, with annual growth rate exceeding 7%, it will soon reach the status of G3. India is an incredibly important country to us. As such, we must find ways to strengthen our cooperative relationship to grow stronger together." Following President Moon's guidance, we are reviewing a variety of measures to establish a special defense industry cooperation partnership with India. In specific, we are highly interested in the plans to set up defense corridor in Tamil Nadu and Uttar Pradesh, a part of the 'Make in India' policy, mentioned by Prime Minister Modi during the DEFEXPO (April 12, 2018). Currently, the Korean defense industry is looking to establish a presence in the Prime Minister's defense corridor and form a real partnership, once they have established a contract relationship on the weapon systems that India is interested in. These partnerships will deepen the mutually beneficial defense industry cooperation relationship, and furthermore I am certain that they will be the bedrock for India's economic growth and development of India's organic defense industry. India will be able to achieve the goal of exporting weapon systems made in India to third party countries.

Korea companies are well integrated into the Indian economy value systems. But, Korean defence companies seems to be finding more challenging. Could you share their concerns? 
The Korean defense industry is reviewing many potential countries in order to expand defense industry exports. Recently, in conjunction with the government's new southern policy, the defense industry is looking for a hub country that can provide close support and link to defense industry cooperation with countries in Southeast Asia, Middle East and Africa. In this light, India is a great candidate for us because India's geographical location is a node that connects Asia, Middle East and Africa. The cooperative relationship between Korea and India has gone smoothly, but, in order to develop this into a mature relationship, I believe shaping the environment to add momentum to the Korean firms expanding in India. First, we need to expand the approval standards for the implementation of offset trade. Aside from direct offset that occurs from purchasing components made in India, we also need to recognize the value-added that comes from the Korean firms establishing factories in India, thereby contributing to maturing the capabilities of Indian researchers and employees. Moreover, given the complex web of relationship among the entities in the industry such as the government, defense industry firms, research institution, project management agency, a government control tower is necessary to facilitate information exchange and sharing between the two countries. If this control tower is able to coordinate timely exchange of opinions, I am certain that our bilateral defense industry cooperation will go on to make great achievements.

As you mentioned that through innovations, South Korea’s defence industry was preparing for the future battlefield with our foundation in cutting-edge weapons system such as drones and robotics. What are the advance elements of research and innovation that you are talking about? 
We are now in the era where so right now Korea government and I are leading at defence reform 2.0 that is precisely with understanding that war would be conducted among the equipment. So, now we are at time where we are about to change the paradigm of war. And some of these technologies that I am referring to befitting the 4th Industrial revolution such as the Artificial Intelligence and sensory equipment are continue to play big role.  And, now we are so that warfare is conducted on behalf of humans by the equipment such unmanned vessels, unmanned robots.

India has become the third Asian country after Japan and South Korea to get the Strategic Trade Authorization-1 (STA-1) status after the US issued a federal notification to this effect, paving the way for high-technology product selloff to India. Besides, India has also floated the requirement of 110 fighter jets and Korea has already ordered 40 F 35 Lightning from US. In the light of this, would Korea- India- US collaboration on fighter jets be a possibility? 
If India wishes such thing, I am willing to negotiate with India first and discuss the matter with our counterpart at US, however because there was no prior discussion on this matter, I cannot take responsibility and say that these things will happen.   However, I am telling you that there is no reason to say no to such requests. If India wishes so we can provide India with some of the Data and some of the reports that we would receive from Lockheed Martin. We could set the ground for further cooperation with US and India by speaking to the US’ defence establishment.

Recent report tabled in UN indicates that North Korea has not stopped in arms pilferage. North Korea is said to selling arms and ammunition off to terrorist groups of Yemen and Syria. Is it a big dent on the peace process?  What is your take on this? 
What I feel is that media is always in the hurry to get to the fast conclusion or fast results but you also have to realize that this is the matter of international relations that take time.  Since the first US-North Korea summit in June, I think, it is only a couple of months since then and that it is soon for us to demand complete change of face on the relationships between North Korea and the world. We should take our time and make careful decision based on sufficient intelligence. In my opinion, I think, on both side of isle of democratic countries –US and South Korea –as well as North Korea have a lot more work to do and cooperate. And, I think, India will part of the patient one for the better results.

India is on way to building up a robust ecosystem of defence OEMs. What is the message from Korea –as how India can speed up and create world- class ecosystem of defence manufactures?
During my military career, I worked in defense capability acquisition, and after retirement, I experienced diverse roles in the defense industry during my time as an advisor to a law firm. I can tell you from my experience that a healthy defense industry ecosystem should be able to guarantee cooperation and fair competition on the bedrock of communication and solidarity among all stakeholders in the industry in a cooperative relationship. In order to establish a healthy defense industry ecosystem, the government should lower the barriers to entry to firms developing innovative technology keeping pace with the 4th industrial revolution; the small and medium enterprises who form the backbone of the defense industry should receive strong support to enable them to create innovative products through technology transfers. Furthermore, the defense industry should establish a proper symbiotic relationship between the large and small firms; the industry as a whole should lead to create culture not based on human connections and privilege, but rather a culture centered around technology and quality. Korea pursued a growth-centered policy for the defense industry on the foundation of military modernization project during the 80s. This resulted in certain distortions in the industry, for which we are currently implementing various measures to correct them. Korea will continue to support India on its path towards leading the world in defense industry, without the mistakes Korea made during its rise.