India is strongly pursuing a policy to attract foreign investment into defence segment in which South Korea has shown a lot of interest and slowly emerging as a key player which has got access to a range of new technologies that can satisfy Indian military’s quest for its modernisation drive.
But many South Korean investors and business groups are still finding it hard to bring their investment and technology unless India is going to fast-track its policy outlines mainly futuristic accusation plans very clear.
Yet, all of them are opening their offices in Delhi and other cities in India and keeping all the developments involving defence sector on a regular basis. At the moment, South Korea is looking at developing naval and electronic systems for Indian military through various joint ventures in India.
This will not only boost India’s effort to attract investment but also lot of new technologies into defence sector which is struggling to take off despite the NDA government’s decision to open up defence sector manufacturing for foreign and private players.
Since the establishment of diplomatic relations in 1973, engagement between India and South Korea has traditionally been driven by their private sectors. Their growing economic relationship provided a secure base for the two governments to expand ties across other sectors, including defence and security. But the going has been slow.
Both countries first evinced interest for closer security ties 15 years ago in 2000. Following this, the two navies kicked off joint naval exercises and a MoU on cooperation in defence industry and logistics was signed in 2005.
However, it took another five years for the two countries to elevate their relationship to a strategic partnership. This announcement was made in 2010 when South Korean President Lee Myung-bak visited India as chief guest at its Republic Day parade.
In May 2007, the defence ministers of the two countries held their first ever dialogue. The defence relations between the two countries received a substantial impetus when Indian defence minister AKAntony visited South Korea, the first ever by an Indian defence minister to that country, in September 2010.
Antony and his counterpart Kim Tae-Young discussed the modernisation programme of the Indian armed forces as many Korean companies were vying for the contracts to supply equipment such as the basic trainer aircraft and naval warships to the Indian armed forces. Antony also sought to tap Korea’s strong capabilities in shipbuilding technology. South Korea has taken note of India’s massive defence modernisation and acquisition programme with expenditure of US$100 billion over the next five years. South Korea’s prowess in shipbuilding, electronics and aeronautics industries would be attractive to India.
Two landmark MoUs were signed. The first MoU envisaged an exchange of defencerelated experience and information, an exchange of visits by military personnel and experts, including civilian staff associated with the defence services, military education and training and the conduct of military exercises.
It also envisaged an exchange of visits by ships and aircrafts, as jointly decided between the two countries. The MoU – valid for five years – aimed to promote cooperation in humanitarian assistance and international peacekeeping activities.
The second MoU seeks to identify futuristic defence technology areas of mutual interest and the undertaking of research and development works in both countries. Codevelopment and co-production of defence products with Indian industry through India’s Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) and South Korea’s Defense Acquisition Program Administration (DAPA) are envisaged.
The recenT selecTion of a souTh Korean firm To supply eighT minesweepers worTh us$500 million is a new development
Indeed, there will be a joint intellectual property rights on all the products developed through this mechanism. Some areas of immediate interest, such as marine systems, electronics and intelligence systems were identified as priority tasks. This is the most important aspect of the MoU and has important implications for the future direction of India-South Korea military and strategic cooperation.
There are also vast potential for cooperation in science and technology field. A joint R&D Fund of US$10 million has been set up.
Also, a joint research centre in Daedeok Science City in Korea has been established. The two MoUs between Korea Aerospace Research Institute (KARI) and Indian Space Research Organisation(ISRO), and between Korea Institute of Science and Technology (KIST) and Department of Science and Technology (DST) would elevate defence cooperation to a higher level.
South Korea is keen to export military equipments to India and forge joint ventures in manufacturing of military equipment, including transfer of technology and co-production.
The recent selection of a South Korean firm to supply eight minesweepers worth US$500 million represents a new element in their cooperation. If South Korean firms which are participating in various biddings under India’s defence acquisition programme become successful, it will give a major boost to the existing bilateral relations.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh also visited South Korea the same year. Highprofile defence interactions included visits by Korean defence minister Kim Kwan Jin (November 2012) and Chief of Air Staff General Sung Hwan (2013). This culminated in South Korean President Park Geun-hye’s visit (January 2014) to promote “sales diplomacy” in the defence space and expand security consultations.
Since Narendra Modi’s rise to power, New Delhi has put in much effort to revitalise this bilateral partnership with both the external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj and former defence minister Manohar Parrikar travelling to Seoul earlier this year to prepare the ground for Modi’s visit.
Their primary task was to push forward Modi’s ‘Make in India’ drive, a national programme that encourages foreign companies to manufacture their products in India.
As Modi sees it, India’s developing domestic defence industry lies “at the heart” of this programme and offers opportunities for Korean companies to invest in the sector.
Indian companies have expressed interest in collaboration around manufacturing artillery systems, radars, simulators, engineering systems for land and marine forces, and the like.
There is a definite convergence of interests here. The South Korean defence industry aims to improve its global standing in arms exports and finds great potential in the Indian market. Yet, the road ahead remains complicated.
Now, India is going to buy minesweepers from South Korean companies and looking for artillery guns from South Korean defence technology firms.
If these two deals go through smoothly, then it can give a fillip to Korean defence industry to look into Indian defence market more favourably and set up their ventures for a long-term presence.