Defense industry calls for international cooperation as arms shortages worsen

By Dain Oh, The Readable
Sep. 15, 2023 10:48PM GMT+9

In the wake of ammunition shortages triggered by the Russia-Ukraine conflict, leaders in the global defense industry are finding common ground on present security threats. They emphasize that international cooperation is crucial for tackling these challenges effectively.

The Korea Institute for Defense Analyses (KIDA), South Korea’s premier national defense think tank, hosted its annual three-day Hongneung Defense Forum in Seoul this week. On the conference’s second day, September 14, experts from the defense sector issued a call to arms for allied nations, stressing the need for collaboration to navigate the escalating ammunition crisis.

“The keyword for the global defense industry is ‘time,’” declared Yoon Chang-moon, Director General of the International Cooperation Bureau at the Defense Acquisition Program Administration (DAPA), during a panel discussion centered on international defense industry cooperation. “The moment to address crises has arrived sooner than anticipated,” Yoon added, pointing to the glaring mismatch between demand and supply in ammunition production—a disparity that has been starkly exposed by the Russia-Ukraine conflict.

According to the Director General, the clamor for ammunition support has surged, particularly as Western nations assist Ukraine in fending off Russia’s full-scale invasion. Meanwhile, manufacturers in the arms trade are grappling with productivity challenges, even as crises loom ever closer on the horizon in Southeast Asia. “While rapid acquisition capability is becoming crucial in responding to the threats, South Korea has been playing an important role in filling the production gap,” added Yoon.

South Korea, which joined the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in 2006 as a global partner, has seen a marked expansion in its defense partnerships over the last decade. The nation now boasts 48 defense allies, up significantly from just 28 in 2013. Additionally, the export volume of South Korea’s defense industry has ballooned by 50% between 2017 and 2021, compared to the preceding five-year period from 2012 to 2016.

Spearkers at 2023 Hongneung Defense Forum are participating in a panel discussion regarding international defense industry cooperation on September 14. From left, Yoon Chang-moon, Director General of the International Cooperation Bureau at the Defense Acquisition Program Administration (DAPA), Peter Layton, a Visiting Fellow at Griffith University and Associate Fellow at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), Lee Seung-yoon at Hanwha Aerospace, and Rebecca Lucas, analyst at RAND Europe. Photo by Dain Oh, The Readable

Peter Layton, a Visiting Fellow at Griffith University and Associate Fellow at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), echoed Yoon's sentiments. “A war can’t be stopped while the defense industry solves a manufacturing problem or organizational matter. Schedule now becomes the major driver,” stressed the expert. Layton distilled his message down to two words: “time imperatives.”

In addition, Layton spoke on the inevitability of international cooperation to secure national defense. “There is a very real war underway in Europe where Russia is using significant armed force and threatening nuclear attacks as it fights to capture Ukraine. Meanwhile in the Indo-Pacific, China is constructing a very large, high-technology, all-domain military force,” continued the expert.

“This rapid arms build-up, the aggressive statements by China’s political leadership, and the country’s gray zone actions suggest to some that China might in the near to medium future use major military force to resolve issues such as Taiwan. An imaginary war has been created that worries many and which is now starting to materially influence defense thinking, plans, and force structures globally.”

Layton posited that the international defense industry needs to pivot from its traditionally centralized model to a more decentralized approach grounded in international cooperation, in order to jointly tackle emerging threats. “A widely distributed network that is semi-open, features multiple points of causality, and is run using dispersed authority may meet today’s geostrategic needs, may be practical using modern industrial technology, and may be inherently well suited for future international defense industry cooperation,” he explained.

“This adjustment may mean that such future programs will incur extra costs compared to earlier programs,” said Layton. “Nevertheless, to be effective in the future, international defense industry cooperation needs to be in tune with today’s geostrategic context, not the past’s.”

Dain Oh is a distinguished journalist based in South Korea, recognized for her exceptional contributions to the field. As the founder and editor-in-chief of The Readable, she has demonstrated her expertise in leading media outlets to success. Prior to establishing The Readable, Dain was a journalist for The Electronic Times, a prestigious IT newspaper in Korea. During her tenure, she extensively covered the cybersecurity industry, delivering groundbreaking reports. Her work included exclusive stories, such as the revelation of incident response information sharing by the National Intelligence Service. These accomplishments led to her receiving the Journalist of the Year Award in 2021 by the Korea Institute of Information Security and Cryptology, a well-deserved accolade bestowed upon her through a unanimous decision. Dain has been invited to speak at several global conferences, including the APEC Women in STEM Principles and Actions, which was funded by the U.S. State Department. Additionally, she is an active member of the Asian American Journalists Association, further exhibiting her commitment to journalism.