South Korea to Purchase Bunker-Buster Missile

The Taurus missile will help Seoul implement its new “active deterrence” strategy of preemption against Pyongyang.

South Korea is purchasing bunker-busting long-range missiles from a European company, allowing it to hold at risk nuclear and missile sites in North Korea, Yonhap News Agency reported on Thursday.

According to the report, the ROK’s Defense Acquisition Program Administration (DAPA) approved the purchase of Taurus bunker-busting, air-to-ground missiles for the military’s F-15K fighter jets. The missiles are equipped with GPS-guidance and have a range of 500 km while carrying a 480-kg warhead that can penetrate 6 meters of concrete. Its Circular Error Probable (CEP) is 2-3 meters.

As the report points out, this would allow the ROK military to target many strategic assets inside North Korea without leaving South Korean airspace, where the aircraft could be vulnerable to North Korea’s surface-to-air missiles.

South Korea first expressed interest in acquiring bunker-busting missiles back in 2008. Since then, ROK military officials have repeatedly expressed interest in purchasing Lockheed Martin’s Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missiles (JASSMs).

Back in April Defense Minister Kim Kwan-jin told Parliament that the military had decided on the Taurus because of the United States’ reluctance in approving the JASSM sales.

"U.S. missiles were one of the options we were considering, but because it is difficult for them to be sold to Korea, the only option we have is the Taurus," Kim said at the time.

The Taurus missiles are made by a joint venture between a German subsidiary of the European Aeronautic Defence and Space Company and Sweden's Saab Bofors Dynamics. This will make it the first strategic strike weapon Seoul isn’t purchasing from a U.S. company.

According to the Yonhap report, the only long-range strike missile in the ROK’s current inventory has a range of 278 km, just over half that of the Tartus. Before reaching an agreement with Washington last October, South Korean missiles were limited to a range of under 300 km when carrying a payload of 500 kilo-gram payload.

The exact costs and numbers of missiles in the deal have not been announced, but some reports cited South Korean media outlets as saying that the ROK military would be purchasing 170 missiles for about US$300 million. Back in April Reuters reported that South Korea was interested in 200 missiles.

Acquiring the Tartus missiles will strengthen the ROK’s new, more robust military doctrine. During the height of the Korean crisis earlier this year, Defense Minister Kim unveiled a new doctrine he called “active deterrence” but which would conventionally be referred to as traditional preemption. Under the plan Kim said the military would acquire greater surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities to identify when an attack was imminent, and the means to neutralize that threat.

Towards that end, Defense Minister Kim announced last week that the military was working to have in place a pre-emptive missile destruction system by 2020. Earlier this month South Korea also announced that it would be equipping its Aegis destroyers with the surface-to-air Standard Missile 6 (SM-6) by 2016. Seoul has repeatedly refused to join the U.S.-led regional missile defense system.

South Korea is also expected to soon announce which aircraft it has selected as its next advanced stealth fighter. The three competitors are Lockheed Martin’s F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter, Boeing’s F-15SE Silent Eagle, and the Eurofighter Typhoon. The deal, which will be for 60 units, is reportedly worth US$7.35 billion.