South Korean Defense Minister Lee Jong-sup (L) speaks to his UAE counterpart, Mohammed Al Bowardi, during a visit to the latter`s ministry in Abu Dhabi, the United Arab Emirates, on Feb. 21, 2023. (South Korea`s Ministry of National Defense)

The defense chiefs of South Korea and the United Arab Emirates on Tuesday agreed to expand joint development and production of weapons, the South Korean Defense Ministry said on Wednesday.

South Korean Defense Minister Lee Jong-sup and his Emirati counterpart Mohammed Ahmed Al Bowardi discussed defense and arms industry cooperation among other pending issues at in-person talks in Abu Dhabi, according to a statement by South Korea’s Defense Ministry.

The bilateral defense ministerial meeting comes a month after President Yoon Suk Yeol’s state visit to the UAE for a summit with Emirati leader Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan in January.

The two defense chiefs discussed concrete ways to implement the agreements made in January between Yoon and the Emirati leader.

They agreed to explore ways to expand bilateral cooperation in jointly developing and producing weapons based on the memorandums of understanding on strategic defense industry cooperation and on the joint development of multirole cargo aircraft signed in January.

Both sides agreed on cooperation in the fields of joint investment, research and technological development, according to Seoul’s Defense Ministry.

In particular, they committed to identifying requirements for new weapons systems that can be jointly developed and produced as potential areas for joint research, the ministry added.

Lee and Al Bowardi also agreed to strengthen military cooperation in the fields of cybersecurity, space and realistic training exercises conducted with cutting-edge simulation combat systems. However, it did not provide further details.

In the past, South Korea and the UAE have promoted exchanges and cooperation in defense, including staging combined military exercises.

The UAE is notably the only foreign country where South Korea has dispatched an overseas unit for the purpose of military cooperation.

The Akh unit, which Lee visited on Sunday, has been carrying out various missions including providing education and training for the Emirati special forces and conducting combined exercises with the Emirati special forces in Abu Dhabi since its establishment in 2011.

During the meeting, Al Bowardi reportedly said the Akh unit, which is a symbol of defense cooperation between the two countries, has been instrumental in strengthening the combat capabilities of the Emirati armed forces. Akh means “brother” in Arabic.

After the meeting, Lee also visited Emirati troops operating South Korean-made M-SAM II surface-to-air missiles, also called “Cheongung II,” in Abu Dhabi on Tuesday.

In January last year, South Korea exported the M-SAM II — which can defend military and industrial facilities against enemy air attacks — to the UAE. The UAE also clandestinely purchased Chunmoo multiple rocket launchers from South Korea.

Lee attended the International Defense Exhibition & Conference, the largest and only arms and defense technology trade show in the Middle East and North Africa, along with around 30 South Korean defense contractors including LIG Nex1, Hanwha Corp. and Hyundai Rotem at the invitation of the UAE.

Sheikh Mohammed also attended the defense exhibition, and met Hanwha Systems CEO Eoh Sung-chul on Tuesday, according to a pool report by the press corps of the South Korean Defense Ministry.

After the meeting, Eoh said Sheikh Mohammed showed his interest in the long-range surface-to-air missile (L-SAM) interception system which South Korea has been developing with the aim of completion in 2024. The L-SAM has been designed to shoot down hostile missiles at higher altitudes than the Cheongung II and altitudes of 50 to 60 kilometers.

By Ji Da-gyum (

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