ADEX 2019 was held at Seoul airport from 15 to 20 October. This airport is in fact a military air base of the ROKAF (Republic of Korea Air Force), not an ordinary passenger airport. It’s only open to air force aircrews and real VIPs, like the Korean president, government officials or foreign dignitaries. But biannually, part of this unusual airport is opened to the public for the ADEX event.
ADEX means “Aerospace & Defense Exhibition.” The show began as the Seoul Airshow in 1996 and gradually evolved into an airshow / defense exhibition. It is now by far the most important and largest defense expo in Korea and has a large display of ground equipment and small arms. 430 companies from 34 countries participate, and a few hundred thousand spectators visit each year.
While the show’s main participant target is the Korean military procurement market, it also drew many other countries’ interests as well, since many Middle Eastern countries like Saudi Arabia and UAE show considerable interest in Korean defense products as do many Southeast Asian countries. Korean defense products like supply ships or self-propelled Howitzers are also constantly sold to non-Asian countries, such as Norway, Finland and Poland, and now the Australian Army is showing a strong interest in Hanwha Defense’s AS21 “Redback” IFV (Infantry Fighting Vehicle).
And how about small arms? Unlike other fields, especially aerospace, where many prominent foreign companies were represented, small arms were almost monopolized by Korean companies, namely S&T Motiv and Dasan Co. Actually, until 2016, small arms were virtually S&T Motiv’s monopoly, except a small batch of counter-terrorist weapons, but now Dasan also can supply military small arms if they win a bid, since as of 2016, Dasan Co. also got a license to supply the Korean military. So now the two companies have to compete against each other.
This provided considerable change this year, and the biggest change came from S&T Motiv. As Daewoo Precision’s successor (actually the same company with a different name and ownership), their portfolio didn’t change much since the early 1990s. Most of the weapons, especially rifles, carbines and machine guns, were simply variations of the so-called “K Series,” namely K1, K2 and K3. So, even when the ROK Army Special Forces are currently trying to find new carbines to replace the current K1A “SMG” (while it’s a 5.56 carbine, ROK nomenclature is “SMG,” because it mainly replaced the M3 Grease guns), S&T Motiv originally suggested a modified (shortened) K2 rifle, namely the K2C carbine or its variant. But things changed drastically this year.
This time, surprisingly, S&T Motiv showed us the new STC-16 carbine, which is basically an AR-based, piston-driven carbine. While K2 is also based upon the AR design, STC-16 is much more like “S&T’s interpretation of [the] HK416” rather than another variation of the K1/K2 series. This is because the competitor, Dasan, is now suggesting the DAR-15P carbine, another AR-piston carbine variant to customers, and the customers (especially Spec Ops guys) like DAR-15P more than their current “K Series” weapons. S&T Motiv felt it was time to have another platform other than K1/K2.
S&T Motiv also displayed some other surprising products, this time, an AK! And this time it’s purely for the export market. S&T Motiv is now trying to expand its export sales, since the ROK military has more than enough small arms. From the mid-1970s (when the current S&T Motiv was then government-owned Busan arsenal) to today, more than two million rifles and carbines (M16A1, K1/K2 variants) have been produced and procured by Korean military and police. Now the Korean military is downsizing from 600,000 to 500,000; it’s no wonder their procurement now is significantly reduced. S&T Motiv is still making K2C1 rifles (a flat-top variant of the K2 rifle), but K2C1 production is close to the end, and after that, no large-scale military contract is scheduled. So, S&T Motiv is now trying to make an export-specific portfolio, including an AK series and AR series. Actually, this time, S&T Motiv even showed us its own copy of the M4 carbine (STR-19), complete with the original direct impingement gas system!
Not only do S&T Motiv and Dasan compete for rifles and carbines, S&T Motiv and Dasan also now compete with each other for new machine guns. Now the ROK Army is looking for new 7.62NATO medium machine guns to replace M60s, and two companies are seriously competing with each other. While S&T Motiv is suggesting the K12 variant for infantry and vehicle mount, Dasan made its suggestions as well, under the name of XK-16 (infantry) and XK-17 (vehicle/aircraft). Dasan’s XK-16/-17 are actually variations of the FN MAG, with a few minor modifications. Unlike the original, Dasan’s are side-ejecting, and the barrel change system also has been changed to be similar to S&T Motiv’s K15 machine gun. Also, the XK-17 has a similar stock/spade grip system, which can be converted into a ground role immediately after removing the spade grip and extending the telescopic stock.
While this sounds ambitious, I don’t think it will really go anywhere; K11 has virtually failed, the ROK Army only bought a handful and wants no more, and since XM-25 also failed in the U.S. Army, I don’t think the ROK Army would seriously invest in a “Korean XM-25.”
Foreign Companies at ADEX
While guns themselves are a monopoly of Korean companies, optics and other accessories are not. Actually, optics was also a monopoly of a handful of Korean companies, but after many scandals and defective products, foreign companies also have a chance. There’s a considerable chance, because now the ROK military is trying to renovate its infantry equipment under the project “Warrior Platform.” ROK infantry equipment is outdated almost 20 years compared to top NATO countries, so the ROK military is trying to tighten the gap. Actually, this year, L3 Harris, Trijicon and Aimpoint set up booths and showed their products at ADEX. Also, while not having its own booth, Holosun products were shown on the Army’s own Warrior Platform booth as samples. They are not officially adopted, only supplied as samples, and it’s hard to imagine the ROK Army buying a considerable number of them. Surefire and OSS also supplied a small batch of suppressors as samples.
While not small arms, we also have two new mortars. One is S&T heavy industry’s (not the S&T Motiv, but within the same S&T conglomerate) 120mm semiautomatic mortar. Using a French-developed 120mm rifled mortar round, it can fire up to 13km (with a range-extended round) with a maximum fire rate of 10 rounds per minute. It uses a semiautomatic loading system and can be mounted on a 5-ton truck or on armored vehicles. The Korean Army will buy them as a self-propelled mortar for mechanized units.
The other mortar is HYUNDAI WIA’s KM114 lightened 81mm mortar. They produced the KM187 mortar, 81mm, for a long time since the 1990s. While the KM187 can fire range-extended ammo for the M252 mortar, the KM187 was somewhat heavier than M252, since KM187 was a lengthened version of the obsolete U.S. M29 mortar. KM114 is lightened version of the KM187, which reduced 20% of its weight using Titanium and Aluminum alloys for many parts. It also uses a high-tech digital control system, which helps very fast gun-laying and allows for less crews. The ROK Army is planning to use the mortar as a company level support weapon, replacing current 60mm mortars.
ADEX mostly has been, and will be, held at the Seoul airport. It’s not a commercial airport, but actually an airbase of ROKAF, which is used by the ROK government for VIPs. Also, while the name is Seoul Airport, it’s not in Seoul: it actually is in Seongnam City, which is a suburb of Seoul. So, locals will more easily understand when you say, “Seongnam Airbase.”
This program is especially adapted to SMEs looking for contractors. The main advantage of this service being that participants receive pre-arranged meetings with business partners—the ideal occasion to identify future commercial partners and to meet buyers.
Finding good tourist hotels in Seongnam is not easy, but you can find many good hotels in southern Seoul, which is close to the site, for around $100 to $150 USD per night. There are less expensive ones, but you may have a language barrier at such places. But even cheap hotels are quite safe, so you can leave your bags at your room.
The best option is taking the subway (Line No.8 or Bundang line), off the train at Moran (line 8) or Taepyeong (Bundang line) station and take a shuttle bus or taxi. I would recommend a taxi, since it’s not that expensive, no tips required, and it’ll take you right in front of the gate. You can take a rental car, but driving on congested Korean roads with sometimes violent Korean drivers, is one of the last things to be recommended in Korea.
Power & Plug Types
220v AC, with EU-type electricity plugs.
Korean won. The U.S. dollar is not accepted at most places, but you can use most U.S. credit cards at almost any place. Check xe.com for exchange rates.
Violent crimes against foreigners are rare; actually, South Korea is one of the safest countries to visit. Even when crime happens, virtually no firearms are involved.
You can visit many interesting places in Seoul; there’s a very large war memorial museum in Seoul, which is worth visiting.
Avoid weekends and Friday to visit ADEX: visitors are heavily concentrated during those 3 days, especially on Saturday and Sunday (public days).