Bangkok Post

N Korea’s military show threatens to upstage South’s

Pyongyang’s weapons fair may be trying to steal some of Seoul’s thunder, writes

- Josh Smith

South Korea will hold its biennial defence fair in Seoul next week, just days after North Korea opened a highly unusual military exhibition that analysts said may be partly aimed at stealing some thunder from Seoul amid a growing arms race.

The events highlight the latest developmen­ts both Koreas have made as they press forward with major expansions of already substantia­l military capabiliti­es — including sometimes mirror-image moves.

“North Korea must have purposeful­ly timed their defence exhibition this week to gain traction from the internatio­nal community ahead of South Korea’s scheduled show to sell their weapons systems abroad,” said Cho Jin-soo, former president of the Korean Society for Aeronautic­al and Space Sciences. “They are piggybacki­ng on the South to sell the weapons and delivering a message of ‘forget me not’”.

Seoul Internatio­nal Aerospace &

Defense Exhibition (ADEX) has been held every two years since 2009, in contrast to North Korea’s, which was not announced in advance.

“There’s likely to have been a number of considerat­ions that resulted in this event, however, not least of which the fact that they appear to be gearing up for another period of increased tensions and confrontat­ion,” said Joost Oliemans, a specialist focused on North Korean military capabiliti­es.

In a speech opening the exhibition on Monday, leader Kim Jong-un pointed to a military buildup by South Korea as one justificat­ion for the North’s military, and reiterated complaints that North Korea’s defence developmen­ts are treated differentl­y than those in other countries.


Although superficia­lly similar and conspicuou­sly timed, the two events are quite different, and the two Koreas do not compete for the same customers.

Sanctioned over its nuclear programme and with borders closed to prevent a Covid-19 outbreak, North Korea’s event has been visited by officials from around the country, according to state media, but no major internatio­nal delegation­s.

In recent years a United Nations panel of experts monitoring internatio­nal sanctions has accused North Korea of continuing to export arms, and conduct military cooperatio­n with countries such as Syria and Myanmar.

Festooned with paintings and other images of Mr Kim, the North Korean show is also as much about idolising the country’s leader as displaying new weapons, said Rachel Minyoung Lee, an analyst with the 38 North project, which tracks North Korea.

South Korea, meanwhile, says ADEX will feature 440 companies from 28 countries. About 300 military and defence officials from 45 countries, including defence ministers,

are expected to attend, organisers have said.

Displays are expected to include South Korea’s latest defence technology, including hydrogen-fueled drones, virtual reality-based training systems, laser weapons, and multi-purpose unmanned vehicles.

The centrepiec­e will be South Korea’s prototype KF-21 next-generation fighter jet, as well as guided weapons such as missiles, said an aviation expert with the knowledge of the plans. South Korea will likely be eyeing potential internatio­nal vendors to provide it with tanker aircraft technology.

Other, more civilian-focused displays will feature “urban air mobility” technology for air taxis, and satellite launch rockets, the expert said.

Kang Eun-ho, South Korea’s minister for the Defence Acquisitio­n

Programme Administra­tion, declined to comment on any potential deals in the works during ADEX, but told reporters on Thursday that he hoped the show provides an opportunit­y to “read the arc and trend” of global defence developmen­ts.


Kallman Worldwide, a company that organises the US presence at aerospace and defence shows around the world, said “nuclear sabre-rattling” by North Korea as well as efforts to defuse those tensions through diplomacy have made ADEX “uniquely framed with extra urgency and intrigue”.

“Driving the discussion, defence budget increases largely aimed at countering Kim Jong-un’s nuclear programs are spiking supplier interest in

the show,” the company said in a pitch for ADEX on its website.

South Korea has approved major increases in its defence budget in recent years, aiming to counter the North and wean itself off American support while expanding its military export industry.

The Ministry of National Defence has proposed a defence budget of 55.23 trillion won (1.58 trillion baht) for 2022, a year-on-year increase of 4.5%.

North Korea’s decision to stage its exhibition — complete with data cards for each weapon — was “very rare” for a country that more typically shows off its arsenal in parades, said Joseph Dempsey, a defence researcher at the Internatio­nal Institute for Strategic Studies.

Among the potential new weapons were a ballistic missile with an apparent manoeuvrab­le re-entry vehicle, which would allow the warhead to steer itself

toward its target; and a previously unseen missile displayed next to the North’s submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBM).

The mystery missile is smaller than existing SLBMs, potentiall­y presenting an easier pathway to an operationa­l ballistic missile submarine, which South Korea has recently demonstrat­ed with an SLBM launch, Mr Dempsey said.

When asked about North Korea’s show, the South’s defence ministry said it was assessing the displayed weapons in coordinati­on with the United States.

A large number of convention­al weapons were also displayed, including anti-ship, anti-tank and surface-to-air missiles, drones, and new small arms such as sniper rifles, Mr Oliemans said.

“What we’re seeing is a mixture of recently developed systems and prototypic­al designs,” he said.


 ?? REUTERS ?? North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-un speaks to officials next to military weapons and vehicles on display, including the country’s interconti­nental ballistic missiles, at the Defence Developmen­t Exhibition, in Pyongyang, North Korea, on Tuesday.
REUTERS North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-un speaks to officials next to military weapons and vehicles on display, including the country’s interconti­nental ballistic missiles, at the Defence Developmen­t Exhibition, in Pyongyang, North Korea, on Tuesday.

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