Columbia International Affairs Online: Policy Briefs

CIAO DATE: 05/2014

Defense Innovation and Industrialization in South Korea

Chung-in Moon, Jae-Ok Paek

September 2010

Institute on Global Conflict and Cooperation, University of California


South Korea’s defense industrial transformation has been impressive by any standard. It was able to satisfy most of its basic weapons needs within a decade after launching its defense industry. Since the late 1990s, South Korea has been elevated from a third-tier arms producer to the second tier by moving from the stage of imitation and assembly to that of creative imitation and indigenization. It now competes with major arms-supplying countries. In addition, the South Korean defense industry has made remarkable progress in RMA-related areas mostly involving command, control, communication, intelligence, reconnaissance, and surveillance. In this policy brief, we first assess South Korea’s defense industrial performance by examining the patterns of defense acquisition, rate of localization of defense materiel, and defense exports. We then briefly analyze the evolutionary dynamics of defense industrial upgrades in selected sectors by tracing the stages of innovation. We also delineate a set of institutional and policy arrangements that have contributed to this impressive transformation.