Expo has Plenty to Offer
Seoul ADEX (Aerospace and Defense Exhibition) is South Korea’s most prolific defense exposition; originally begun as the Seoul International Air Show in 1996, it soon merged with other defense exhibitions and became Korea’s representative defense trade show. Now it’s a biannual event with 33 countries participating, 405 companies and 282,373 visitors.
While this has its roots as an airshow, and main concerns are heavy equipment like fighters, tanks and other large items (even the USAF F-22 Raptor and F-35 Lightning 2 was there), there’s some degree of small arms companies showing off their products to the buyers and crowds.
Of all the small arms we could see in the ADEX, there are some interesting developments. Originally there was only one military small arms manufacturer in Korea, the S&T Motiv. The company was originally called Daewoo Precision, but with the collapse of the Daewoo conglomerate and following M&A changed the name of the company into S&T Daewoo, then the S&T Motiv we know today. Even with all the name changing, basically it’s the same company ever since, and almost all the major staff this writer has known for more than 20 years are still working for the company’s ’special business department’, the name they call the small arms section of the company.
Until 2016, the only military small arms manufacturer who could manufacture and supply small arms to Korean Armed Forces was S&T Motiv; but after 2016, things were changed considerably. Now Dasan Co, a firearms parts manufacturer who supplies many gun parts from barrels to receivers to various well-known gun manufacturers, is certified as a second manufacturer/supplier eligible for ROK Armed Forces. Theoretically they can manufacture even the K1A/K2 rifles if the government gives a contract to them; while the possibility of Dasani-made K1A/K2 rifles actually going into the ROK Armed Forces is not that high, it’s enough of a possibility for them to introduce some new weapons and supply those to the armed forces.
That chance is relatively close at hand. Now the Korean Army Special Forces, who are eager to change out their aging K1A carbines within a few years, is looking for new weapons, and Dasan seems to be the most probable candidate for that. The purchase for this program would be as many as 20,000 carbines, but not only the quantity is large, this is very symbolic because the client is “Special Forces” and that would be a very big PR victory, which can help Dasan on the export market, and they might eventually be able to replace most of K1/K2 series of weapons in ROK Armed Forces which are now close to 40 years old.
Dasan’s entry would be either the Caracal CAR816, which Dasan can license-manufacturing in country, or the DAR-15P, a piston-driven AR Carbine which Dasan recently developed by themselves. Since Korean special operators are of course familiar with and admire the AR series of weapons which their US counterparts use, especially the HK416 series, they already have a good impression about the Dasan-made ARs, which are way more ergonomic and adaptive than the old K1As.
Of course, S&T Motiv isn’t sitting idly by for this competitive threat. They are now developing new carbines based upon their previous K2C Carbine and K2C1 rifle. They are making K2C-1 carbine and K2C-2 carbine, which are basically K2Cs with some modifications, and K2C1 short (not K2C-1), which is K2C1 rifle but with K2C’s 13-inch barrel. It’s puzzling that they brought out basically the same rifles with different names (the only difference between K2C and K2C1 short is the rail hand guard design), but using the K2 platform which is so familiar with ROK forces may also be an advantage in terms of familiarization and logistics.
Right now the new Special Forces carbine program is still in its infant stage, so no serious evaluation has been made. Whatever the situation would be, the result may change the ROK small arms situation considerably.
While the new Carbine program was the most prominent small arms item during this year’s ADEX, other small arms matters also were interesting. First, S&T Motiv introduced their first prototype of an anti-material rifle. It was a very typical .50BMG bolt action rifle, with 1,800m of alleged effective range. The prototype is capable of live fire and might soon be mass-produced once a decision to do that is made. However, it’s not clear whether the most important client, ROK Armed Forces, would actually buy them. But there was some debate within the armed forces over whether such thing is necessary or not, and while most other countries have similar weapons systems, the possibility of ROK forces adopting this is considerable.
Another company-oriented development program aimed at ROK forces was Dasan’s semi-auto DMR. It is a very typical .308 semi-auto rifle of AR-10 pattern, which is very natural since Dasan is accustomed to making AR parts. Right now ROK forces are using bolt-action K-14 rifles from S&T Motiv, but requirements for a semi-auto DMR also exist within ROK forces. If that requirement becomes reality, Dasan and S&T Motiv (who are known to have a similar prototype DMR, which wasn’t on display at ADEX) will compete for that.
Another interesting thing from Dasan is their clone of Glock type weapons. While they’re prototypes, it is interesting because they have metal frames; there are twos type of frames—one has a full-metal frame, and the other is a hybrid, which has an upper metal frame and lower polymer grip, not unlike that of the STI2011 series of handguns. They were made by an order for some other nation’s civilian buyers, but the hybrid frame for Glock may provide a good platform for race guns or tactical pistols which have very rigid rail platforms for attaching accessories.
Whichever it may be, the ROK small arms scene is now becoming interesting due to this newly staged competition.