By Heebum Hong
The Korean defense market is booming. Until recently, the Korean defense industry served mostly so-called third world countries, especially Southeast Asia. But from the 2010s, things began to change… and from last year, due to the war in Ukraine, South Korea’s defense industry gathered the world’s attention due to that conflict’s “Cold-War” nature. South Korea is now the only country in the western block regularly producing more than 100,000 155mm artillery shells per month (the U.S., today, can produce around 30,000 per month), and can produce more tanks, self-propelled howitzers, and armored vehicles than any other NATO country. Simply speaking, at least in terms of quantity, South Korea has become one of the world’s defense industry powerhouses.
This industrial capability also applies to its small arms production. While South Korea still doesn’t get garner as much export orders as compared to other national defense industries, the South Korean small arms industry has considerable potential in terms of manufacturing capability. SNT Motive, the largest small arms manufacturer in Korea, still maintains production capability of hundreds of thousands of rifles per year. And combined with another South Korean small arms manufacturer, Dasan Machinery, the country can meet the demand for a considerable number of small arms. And with volatility of today’s world, nobody can anticipate when such demand might appear.
So, during this year’s ADEX (Aerospace and Defense Expo), a biannual defense expo in South Korea, there were a record number of foreign delegations and buyers. Most of them were interested in heavier products such as tanks, artillery, and missiles. But small the arms sector also drew many foreign visitors, and many small arms companies were eager to exhibit their latest developments.
The largest display of small arms at the show was from SNT Motiv, as usual. But this year marked a special occasion. They’ve won a major contract from the South Korean Army Special Operation Command to produce its STC-16, the unit’s latest 5.56mm piston carbine. It was selected as the “Special Operations SMG” and officially became the K-13.
While the initial order is small, 1,710 units, there’s another trial underway for 16,000 more spec-ops carbines. Dasan’s DSAR-15PC was originally selected to fulfill this larger order in 2020, but that contract was cancelled in 2021 after the company was caught up in a scandal in which it was found to have gained an unfair advantage in the contract proceedings after gaining access to privileged DAPA (a South Korean defense purchasing agency) documents that bore classified information about the program’s requirements. As a result, Dasan has been sanctioned and has fallen out of favor and the order for those 16,000 carbines is likely to go to SNT Motiv; and since the Korean army is considering changing their entire stock of aging K2/K1 carbines in near future, SNT Motiv may move to the high ground with the award of the special forces contract.
Another interesting development is the relationship between SNT Motiv and CZUB. Together, they’re trying to sell the CZ P10M pistol to the South Korean military. The guns will be manufactured in SNT Motiv’s Busan factory. While SNT Motiv tried to make a polymer- framed handgun during the early- to mid-2000s, its attempts failed due to lack of investment and now the company has fallen considerably behind in its effort to keep pace with its peers in this worldwide market trend.
Now, the Korean Army is considering new pistols to replace its aging K5 pistols, and it wants to field a modern, polymer-framed, striker-fired gun. SNT Motiv realizes it can’t do it alone within the budget and time constraints assumed by the Army, so they teamed up with CZUB. While there’s still no official tender for a new service sidearm, it’s highly likely that the special forces would soon begin their sidearm replacement program (they currently use the K5) with the Korean-made P10M(STP-9A) thought to be the strongest contender.
Another Korean small arms manufacturer, Dasan, is unlikely to hold a large Korean government contract in near future, so the company seems to be concentrating on the export market. The company showed their previous products, such as the DSAR-15PQ carbine, but it also showed the latest versions of its XR-17 machine gun. They have become somewhat similar to FN’s Minimi/Maximi lineup, since the XR-17 now comes in both 5.56mm and 7.62mm NATO versions. It has a rotating bolt/gas piston operating system, and now also features hand guards not unlike the FN Evolys. The 7.62 NATO version also features a shorter feed cover, which allows the main weapon’s sight to stay in place on the receiver while the weapon is reloaded. The company brochure says both versions weigh 6.3 kg (13.89 lbs.), which we cannot yet confirm.
MACHINE GUN INTEREST
While the South Korean Army is fielding SNT Motiv’s K15 (5.56mm) and K16 (7.62mm) as their next-gen, light and medium machine guns, special forces are searching for new lightweight support weapons lighter than the SNT Motiv-made K15, which weighs in at 7.1 kg (15.65 lbs.). Dasan may submit its XR17, while SNT Motiv would submit its shorter “para” version of the K15, which was also displayed in SNT Motiv’s booth this year.
OTHER EXHIBITORS OF NOTE
Until this year, South Korea had only two military and police small arms manufacturers; SNT Motiv and Dasan Machinery. But now another company is emerging; a manufacturing company called K-Tech opened a booth this year and showed its small arms lineup… Well, they were all guns from Caracal, a United Arab Emirates-based small arms company.
Simply speaking, K-Tech is an off-shore manufacturing base of Caracal. Since UAE’s manufacturing capability still has something to be desired, a considerable amount of Caracal’s CAR 816 Sultan assault rifle orders were also produced by Dasan (and that’s why Dasan displayed the CAR 816 in its booth for a few years). But the Dasan-Caracal partnership ends this year, and K-Tech is taking Dasan’s place. We don’t know what happened between Dasan and Caracal, but K-Tech will begin manufacturing Caracal’s small arms very soon.
Also, Caracal wants to sell small arms to the Korean armed forces as an offset of UAE’s Korean arms imports. The UAE has imported billions of dollars-worth of weapons, such as surface to air missiles and anti-tank missiles, and probably would import more. Naturally, UAE also wants to sell some of its products to Korea, and small arms can be a good offset item. If that happens in a near future, K-Tech would also manufacture those weapons for the Korean armed forces.
There were more than just Korean small arms manufacturers at the show, as the exhibition featured stands from Poland and Colombia. Poland especially showed large range of small arms including their new, polymer-framed, striker-fired handgun, the FB MPS. It’s a typical looking polymer-framed, striker-fired weapon with a chassis-type fire control unit, very much in the same vein as SIG’s P320 or IWI’s Masada.
ADEX ATTENDEE NOTES
Location: ADEX’s traditional home is Seoul’s Seoul Air Base. It’s not a commercial airport, but an ROKAF base, which is also used by the ROK government for VIPs. Also, while the name is Seoul Air Base, it’s not in Seoul; it’s actually in Seongnam City, a suburb of Seoul. So, locals will more easily understand when you reference “Seongnam Airbase.”
ADEX Organizers Contact: email@example.com
Next Show: October 2025
Show Focus This show is especially adapted to SMEs looking for contractors. The main advantage of this expo is that participants receive pre-arranged meetings with business partners—the ideal occasion to identify future commercial partners and to meet buyers.
Dress: business attire
Accommodation: Finding good tourist hotels in Seongnam is not easy, but you can find many good hotels in nearby southern Seoul for around $100 to $150 USD per night. There are less expensive options, but you may have a language barrier at such places. But even cheap hotels are quite safe, so you can leave your bags in your room.
Transportation The best option is taking the subway (line number 8 or Bundang line). Get off the train at Moran (line 8) or Taepyeong (Bundang line) station and take a shuttle bus or taxi to the expo. Your best option is a taxi since it’s not that expensive (no tips required) and it’ll take you close to the gate. You can take a rental car, but visitor parking space is very limited. If you’re an exhibitor or authorized press member, you may be entitled to use on-site parking.
Power & Plug Types 220v AC, with EU-type electricity plugs.
Currency The local currency is the Korean won. The U.S. dollar is not accepted at most places, but you can use most U.S. credit cards widely. Check xe.com for exchange rates.
Country Warnings Violent crime against foreigners is rare. South Korea is one of the safest countries to visit.
Tourism You can visit many interesting places in Seoul. There’s a very large war memorial museum in Seoul, which is worth visiting.
Other Tips Avoid weekends and Friday to visit ADEX. Visitors are heavily concentrated during those three days, especially on Saturday and Sunday (public days).