South Korea Eyes Israel’s Iron Dome
Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

South Korea Eyes Israel’s Iron Dome

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South Korea is interested in buying Israel’s Iron Dome anti-missile system, according to Reuters.

The report said that Yedidia Yaari, the CEO of Rafael Advanced Defense Systems — which makes the much touted Iron Dome anti-missile system — revealed Seoul’s interest during an interview on an Israeli radio station.

“[South Korea] is very worried not only about rockets, but other things as well … You can certainly include them in the club of interested countries,” Yaari said, according to the report. Yaari went on to say that Rafael representatives had visited South Korea to discuss the anti-missile system.

As previously noted, Israel’s mobile, all-weather Iron Dome missile defense system targets missiles with ranges between 4-70 kilometers, although Israel is currently trying to expand that range. This would, in theory, make it highly valuable for protecting Seoul, which is around 35 km from the DMZ.

The Iron Dome batteries all have sophisticated radars that allow them to determine the destination of the intended target. The system is therefore able to ignore missiles that are headed towards open fields or unimportant sites. Among the missiles it does target, however, it reportedly has an astonishing interception rate of as high as 90 percent.

This is not the first time it has been reported that South Korea is interested in purchasing the Iron Dome anti-missile system. Foreign Policy magazine noted last year that “since 2011, [South Korean] military officials have sought to acquire Iron Dome and hoped that Israel would in turn buy South Korean fighter jets, ships, helicopters parts, or more.”

There are other issues inhibiting South Korea’s interest in Israel’s Iron Dome anti-missile system. The first is the sheer difference in the rocket threat posed by non-state actors like Hamas and Hezbollah versus North Korea. As Chad O’Carroll noted back in June:

“While Hezbollah caused significant social, economic and human disruption to Israel by firing more than 4,000 rockets in the course of a month in 2006, South Korean estimates claim North Korea could bombard Seoul at a rate of about 7,000 projectiles per hour in the event of conflict. That means, it has been said, that active defense systems like Israel’s Iron Dome would be essentially futile at protecting Seoul from what could be a very substantial, high-casualty onslaught.”

Part of the limitation of the Iron Dome for South Korea has to do with cost. Each Iron Dome battery reportedly runs its users about $50 million, while the interceptor missiles cost between $30,000 and $50,000 apiece. Shooting down 7,000 rockets from North Korea, therefore, would cost South Korea at least around $210 million, and that’s not counting the money Seoul would have to pay for the initial batteries.

Given the sheer numbers of batteries and rockets South Korea would need to blunt North Korea’s short range artillery, viability could also be an issue for Seoul. Rafael has publicly committed to prioritize deliveries to Israel, which reportedly wants another three batteries on top of the nine it already fields.

Thus, as The Diplomat noted back in 2012, “The success of Iron Dome does little to indicate that BMD systems fielded by South Korea, Taiwan, or Japan could defeat a massive Chinese or North Korean ballistic missile onslaught.”

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