May 31, 2022
SEOUL – The South Korean government has been reviewing the export of artillery shells to Canada in a bid to help the country replenish its depleted weapons stocks sent to Ukraine.
Canada recently asked if South Korea is able to export 100,000 rounds of 155 mm artillery ammunition through a diplomatic channel, a South Korean senior official at the Defense Ministry confirmed to The Korea Herald on Monday.
The South Korean official said the government has not yet formally begun procedures to proceed with the export. But the military has been reviewing whether it is capable of supplying the artillery shells in light of its weapons stocks and readiness posture.
Canada made the request to fill up its ammunition stocks which have been exhausted due to its lethal aid to war-torn Ukraine, according to the official.
Since February, the Canadian government has provided military aid packages, including equipment from its armed forces’ existing weapons stocks, on numerous occasions. A number of M777 howitzers and its associated155-millimeter shells have been delivered to the Security Forces of Ukraine, Canada announced in late April.
Canada’s Defense Minister Anita Anand on May 24 announced the country’s plan to donate 20,000 artillery rounds of 155 mm NATO standard ammunition to support Ukraine’s defense against the Russian invasion. But the ammunition purchase worth 98 million Canadian dollars ($77 million) from the US suggests the depletion of its weapons stockpiles.
The 155 mm artillery rounds, which can be loaded on South Korea-developed K9 Thunder Self-propelled Howitzer, are produced by South Korea’s Poongsan Corp. The company did not respond to a request for comment from The Korea Herald.
South Korean broadcaster SBS on Sunday reported that the military is considering sending its ammunition stocks to Poongsan Corp. so the firm can supply the artillery shells to Canada, without additional production, at a lower-than-normal price. The company will be paid by the Canadian government and additionally produce 100,000 artillery shells for the South Korean military, the report said, citing a high-level official at the Defense Ministry.
Seoul’s plan is to support both Canada and Ukraine by supplying the ammunition at lower costs, the report added. But the senior military official declined to confirm the media report when asked by The Korea Herald.
South Korea has been cautious about providing lethal weapons to Ukraine despite repeated requests from the war-torn country and the US.
Ukrainian Defense Minister Alexei Reznikoff in April requested his then-South Korean counterpart, Suh Wook, to provide anti-aircraft weapons systems. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in the same month asked for weapons aid during a virtual address to South Korean lawmakers.
Should the South Korean government decide to supply 100,000 shells of 155 mm caliber, it will have indirectly joined the international community’s move to provide weapons aid to Ukraine against Russia for the first time.
The South Korean military has delivered around 3 billion won ($2.4 million) worth of nonlethal military items including helmets, bulletproof vests and combat rations to Ukraine on two separate occasions.
South Korea’s Defense Ministry on Thursday said it will push the plan to provide gas masks and canisters, which are Nuclear, Biological, and Chemical or NBC protection equipment, to Ukraine. The military said it will coordinate with related countries over the issue to expeditiously offer additional nonlethal military aid to Ukraine.
Vice Defense Minister Shin Beom-chul committed to seeking ways to step up support for Ukraine at a second virtual meeting of the Ukraine Defense Contact Group hosted by US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin on May 23.