After hitting statutory limits on import-export lending, South Korea gathers local banks to help Poland buy $22 billion worth of weapons in Seoul’s largest arms sale. The purchase is part of President Yoon Suk Yeol’s efforts to make South Korea the fourth-largest weapons exporter by 2027 — behind the US, Russia, and France.
In a deal more significant than Poland’s current defense budget allocation, Warsaw plans to purchase 180 Korean-made K2 Black Panther main battle tanks and 672 K9 self-propelled howitzers as well as 48 FA-50 Golden Eagle light fighter aircraft. That is significantly more than the $14.1 billion Poland has earmarked for equipment purchase this year from its security partners.
The massive order will allow South Korea to boost its ranking in the global arms sales market and further deepen security ties with a NATO ally positioned next to hostile Russia, one of Seoul’s primary markets. It also reflects the growing popularity of South Korean military hardware worldwide, especially following the Russia-Ukraine war and its fallout, including rising tensions between the West and Moscow.
Last year, South Korea’s arms exports rose 140% to a record $17.3 billion, led by deals to sell tanks, howitzers, and fighter jets. The surge is the result of Ukraine’s war with Russia, which has spurred a worldwide effort to produce more missiles, tanks, and other munitions. South Korea is seeking to fill that gap while avoiding a direct role in arming Ukraine, imposing strict export controls on all its sales.
But the Polish purchase underscores that political winds can shift, potentially reducing demand for tanks and howitzers. “This is an extraordinary amount of money for Poland, and it’s not a sure bet that they will build those vehicles in 2026,” said Sash Tusa, a defense and aerospace analyst at Agency Partners in London.
Polish defense planners are rethinking their conventional procurement timelines after Russia’s incursion into Ukraine. The country was already working on weaning its armed forces from Cold War legacy hardware, and that process is expected to speed up now that older hardware is fading from service or running out of spare parts. The Polish decision to go with South Korea’s offerings – replete with sought-after industrial workshare opportunities – could signal a more significant shift toward Asia.
The Korean weapons slated for the Polish army use munitions, components, and systems that are compatible with NATO standards. For example, the K2 tank uses a 120mm smooth-bore gun similar to those mounted on M1 Abrams, German Leopard II tanks, and Israeli Merkel. It also features a US-made satnav system and is compatible with NATO’s STANAG standard for Identification Friend or Foe/Selective Identification Feature. The FA-50 light fighters share design elements and components with the F-16, simplifying maintenance and pilot training for Poland. The agreement includes an option for a joint maintenance and repair facility to be built in Warsaw by 2026. Analysts say that would further boost Warsaw’s ability to sustain the Korean equipment.