North Korea’s recent aggressive actions, including abrogation of the 1953 ceasefire, nuclear detonation, and testing of short and long-range missiles, has increased international tensions and directly threatened its southern neighbor. South Korea has been modernizing its defenses for some time now, and a recent request for Standard Missile 2 (SM-2) systems from the United States is a case in point.
The US Defense Security Cooperation Agency announced May 26/09 [PDF] South Korea’s official request to buy 46 SM-2 Block IIIA missiles, 35 SM-2 Block IIIB missiles, 3 SM-2 Block IIIB Telemetry Missiles for testing, 84 SM-2 missile containers, and associated test and support equipment, spare and repair parts, training, and other forms of support. The estimated cost is $170 million, and the prime contractor will be Raytheon in Tucson, AZ. The sale would require temporary travel for U.S. Government or contractor representatives to the Republic of Korea for in-country training, as a recurring requirement during the life of the missile systems.
How does this purchase fit into South Korea’s overall defense plans?
While press reports didn’t identify the type of short-range missiles that North Korea tested in May from Musudan-ri, North Korea has tested both short range ballistic missiles and HY-2 anti-ship missiles on a number of occasions over the last decade. The 150 – 200 km HY-2 coast-to-ship tactical missile weapon system, with the Western designation “Seersucker,” is employed at coastal fortifications, bases, or islands, to attack enemy surface ships. Ship-launched versions are also produced.
Since South Korea would be reliant on shipping for war supplies, keeping its sea lanes open against naval and aerial attacks would be a key strategic objective. A recent Yonhap News report adds that with the renunciation of the 1953 cease-fire:
“The North said it will no longer guarantee the safe passage of civilian ships, as well as U.S. and South Korean warships, operating along the Yellow Sea border.”
A second dimension of the North Korean threat targets South Korea’s cities, as well as allied military bases throughout the region. North Korea recently tested medium- and long-range ballistic missiles, most noticeably the April 5/09 test of a long-range Taepodong-2 missile with a range of over 6,700 km. North Korea has a large arsenal of short- to medium-range ballistic missiles, and exports them to countries around the world. The Associated Press has compiled an informative list of North Korea’s ballistic missiles and capabilities.
The SM-2’s primary role is to provide area defense against enemy aircraft and anti-ship missiles. The current generation of SM-2s, Blocks IIIA and IIIB, capitalize on technology improvements to substantially increase performance against advanced anti-ship missile threats. In a pinch, the SM-2 can also be used against small and fast naval surface targets. South Korea already uses SM-2 missiles on its KDX-II (SM-2 Block IIIA) and its KDX-III AEGIS (SM-2 Block IIIB) destroyers.
The SM-2 Block IV is a different variant of the missiles that South Korea is ordering. It adds a booster rocket, allowing it to be used for terminal phase ballistic missile defense as well as wide area anti-aircraft defense. It can be employed in stand alone mode, or alongside longer-range Standard Missile 3 (SM-3) missiles that add late mid-course interception. The Bush administration was working on such as “system of systems” approach to defense against ballistic missiles from rogue states, such as North Korea.
SM-3 missiles fired by American ships on station, and Patriot PAC-3 missiles operated on Korean territory by American forces, can already provide some coverage against a limited number of North Korean missiles. At the moment, however, South Korea lacks the native ability to intercept ballistic missiles over its territory.
Under South Korea’s current modernization program, that will change. A billion-dollar South Korean program called AMD-Cell will install long-range radars that can track ballistic missiles as well as enemy aircraft deep within North Korea, and link those radars to new command centers that would be able to share information with allied forces. Another billion-dollar program called SAM-X will give Korea land-based Patriot PAC-3 systems. They offer marked improvements over its older Nike and Hawk anti-aircraft missiles, and add short-range protection against ballistic missiles.
While the SM-2 order will not give South Korea additional ballistic missile defense capabilities, it does fit within a larger context of modern radars, improved missiles, and strengthened anti-aircraft defenses that can protect South Korean and allied forces on land and at sea. See “Raytheon’s Standard Missile Naval Defense Family,” for more information about the SM-2 and SM-3 missile families.
January 19/17: South Korea is shopping for 12 new naval helicopters as its Defense Acquisition Program Administration earmarks $768 million for the acquisition. A decision will be made by the end of 2018 with AgustaWestland’s AW-159, the Sikorsky MH-60R, and NHIndustries’ NH-90 are all in the running. Deliveries will take place between 2020-2022 and the choppers will be deployed on next-generation frigates to counter North Korean submarines and surface vessels.
October 20/16: North Korea could have an operational Musudan intermediate-range ballistic missile by next year, according to experts. John Schilling, an aerospace engineer specializing in rocket propulsion, wrote on the 38 North website that Pyongyang’s aggressive testing schedule also points to its determination to have the weapon ready in the near future. The dictatorship’s latest test this month was tested far from its Musudan-ri test facility, instead moving to a roadside near Kusong. Schilling likened the move to “taking the training wheels off the bicycle, seeing if you really have mastered something new.”
With its own spy satellite program facing delays, South Korea is contemplating leasing a surveillance satellite from Israel. Seoul is already heavily reliant on intelligence data provided by the US and military officials are keen to be able to independently obtain information on North Korea’s military activities. In addition, the military plans to purchase another 90 KEPD-350K air-launched cruise missiles from Germany to add to the 170 currently en route.
July 8/16: The US State Department has cleared the sale of 17 SM-2 Block IIIB standard missiles to South Korea. Estimated at a cost of $60 million, the medium-range surface-to-air missiles will be used to compliment the RoK Navy’s existing stocks of SM-2 Block IIIA/IIIB inventory. The missiles operate on Aegis destroyers as ballistic missile interceptors and represent a beefing up by Seoul of its stocks to counter potential threats from North Korea.