(ATTN: RECASTS lead; UPDATES with officials' comments in paras 4, 6-9)
By Shin Hae-in
SEOUL, Jan. 5 (Yonhap) -- South Korea's exports of defense products reached a record-high US$1.17 billion last year, on the back of stable performances by smaller firms and diversification of sales items, the country's weapons procurement agency said Tuesday.
The country's exports last year rose 13 percent from a year earlier and were slightly below its original annual target of $1.2 billion. But the result is still considered an accomplishment as large deals, including one on a supersonic trainer jet were delayed to this year, Seoul's Defense Acquisition Program Administration (DAPA) said.
The country hopes to export at least $1.5 billion worth defense weapons and materials this year, the agency said.
"With deals on T-50 (trainer aircraft) and K-9 self-propelled howitzers likely to be signed shortly, we believe the goal set for this year is highly achievable," DAPA spokesman Kim Young-san said in a news briefing.
South Korea's exports of defense items hovered around $250 million from 2002 through 2006, but the amount quadrupled in 2007 and reached over $1 billion for the first time in 2008.
South Korea is aiming to reach exports of $3 billion in the defense field in 2012, with President Lee Myung-bak professing last year that South Korea's goal is to become one of the world's 10 largest defense exporters.
Up to 104 South Korean firms exported defense products to a total of 74 countries last year, both numbers increasing from 2008 when 80 local firms made deals with 59 countries.
Meanwhile, with an increasing number of local firms joining in exports of defense items, the weapons agency said it plans to work on revising the country's defense industry law to prevent weapons from going into enemy states.
Some military truck tires, made in South Korea, had been confirmed to have ended up in North Korea a few years back, officials explained.
The two Koreas are still technically at war with the 1950-53 conflict ending in a truce.
"With so many companies selling items to so many different states, some products may end up in enemy states or be used to harm world peace by accident," said Kim Suk-soon, head of the DAPA's exports bureau. "We cannot control all products, but plan to work on provisions so that firms dealing with sensitive products can be warned beforehand."
Last year's exports included submarine systems and airplane components while the top buyers were the United States, Germany and Indonesia. Ammunition was the most-sold item, according to the DAPA's statement.
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