Asia Defense

South Korea-Philippines Military Ties in Focus With New Firearms Deal

A closer look at what an agreement means for the wider defense relationship.

Prashanth Parameswaran
South Korea-Philippines Military Ties in Focus With New Firearms Deal

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, seen here accepting firearms from Russia.

Credit: Philippines Presidential Communications Office

Late last month, two top arms companies from South Korea and the Philippines inked a key joint venture deal. While the initial scope of collaboration in the deal covers only firearms, it nonetheless put the focus on ongoing activity within the defense aspect of the Philippines-South Korea relationship.

As I have noted previously in these pages, South Korea has been a key partner for the Philippines as it attempts to boost its limited defense capabilities. Though the defense relationship covers a range of areas, including exchanges, visits, and exercises, the aspect that that receives the most public attention is the defense deals that Seoul has been involved in, whether it be fighter jets or frigates, which are key line items in Philippine military modernization.

The development of defense relations has continued into 2018. Indeed, defense collaboration was on the agenda in June, when Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte paid his first visit to South Korea since coming office back in 2016. At the time, he and his delegation interacted with South Korean defense establishment as well as select companies, including S&T Motiv, which is South Korea’s largest arms maker.

In late September, this aspect of ties was in the spotlight again with the inking of an agreement between a Philippine and a South Korean firm. S&T Motiv signed a pact with Philippine firm United Defense Manufacturing Corporation (UDMIC), the Philippines’ largest rifle maker, which has already been providing weapons to the Philippine military and law enforcement officials.

The joint venture agreement by two sides is focused initially around producing firearms for the Philippine military and police force. The agreement was announced amid the latest iteration of the Asia Defense, Security, and Crisis Management Exhibition and Conference 2018 (ADAS 2018), which was held from September 26 to 28 at the World Trade Center in Pasay City. Indeed, Duterte himself was able to see the potential firearms that could be produced during his personal visit to the defense trade show.

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The initial focus of collaboration will be on the manufacturing and supply of firearms, as well as further areas such as research and development on existing platforms and the development of new weapons. But company officials suggested in their remarks that there could be future expansion in this initial scope as well. S&T Motiv president and chief executive officer Kijoon Yu told The Philippine Inquirer that there may be a manufacturing facility eventually set up in the country if the expansion is successful. And there is also an eye on eventually expanding collaboration to include other markets as well beyond just the Philippines as well.

To be sure, it is still early days in this agreement, and there are still challenges that remain for the development in collaboration between the two companies as well as among the two countries more generally. Nonetheless, as defense ties between the two ties continue to develop, these interactions and engagements will be continue to be interesting to watch.