South Korea Goes All In On Missile Defense

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South Korea Goes All In On Missile Defense

The ROK Defense Ministry has proposed spending 13.7% of its budget on missile defense.

South Korea’s Defense of Ministry submitted a budget to Parliament on Wednesday asking for 214.5 trillion won (US$192.6 billion) for the fiscal years between 2014 and 2018, Yonhap News Agency reported.

That breaks down to a yearly average of US$38.52 billion; according to Yonhap, South Korea spent US$29 billion on defense last year, although the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) put the figure at US$31.7 billion. Parliament has approved around 34.5 trillion won (US$31.05 billion) for FY 2013.

The budget proposal submitted on Thursday focuses heavily on beefing up South Korea’s missile defense, with such capabilities accounting 13.7 percent of the entire budget request. This in essence proposes funding the improved missile defense capabilities the Republic of Korea (ROK) has announced in rapid succession since North Korea’s latest missile and nuclear tests in December 2012 and February of this year.

Although it has continued to refuse to join the U.S.-led missile defense system, South Korea has gradually come around to fielding its own indigenous system. While it first considered missile defense capabilities during the late 1990s, progress really only began in the last few years of the Roh Moo-hyun administration (2003-2008), following North Korea’s first nuclear test in 2006.

Indeed, in 2006 South Korea announced its plan to build the Korean Air and Missile Defense (KAMD) system, initially intended to be made up solely of Patriot-2 (PAC-2) missile interceptors and radar. The SAM-X program reportedly appropriated US$1.2-1.6 billion toward this goal.

Then, in March of 2008, Raytheon announced it had started “preliminary planning efforts aimed at integrating Patriot air defense/ABM missiles into South Korea’s national command and control structure,” in the words of Defense Industry Daily.

After negotiations in 2006 and 2007, South Korea also received its first shipment of second-hand PAC-2 interceptors from Germany in late 2008. Although it initially expressed interest in purchasing 48 PAC-2 interceptors from Germany, in 2011 Finland temporarily seized a ship carrying 69 PAC-2s from Germany to South Korea. Berlin described this as the last of the sales.

In 2009, the U.S. announced that South Korea had officially requested the U.S. sell various types of SM-2 standard missiles. These would ultimately be used on South Korea’s three KDX-III Class Aegis Destroyers, the largest Aegis-equipped destroyers in the world, which were commissioned into the ROK Navy between 2008 and 2012.

KDX-III ships are also equipped with SPY-1D(V) radar  for early warning. Two of these were deployed in the crisis on the Korean Peninsula last spring, and the SPY-1D radar immediately picked up and tracked North Korea’s December 2012 launch of an Unha-3 long-range rocket.

Last year South Korea also purchased two Green Pine land-based radar systems from Israel. The Green Pine systems were jointly developed by the U.S. and Israel. Seoul also sought to purchase the Iron Dome from Israel, and proposed paying for part of this purchase by selling Israel other types of military equipment. Tel Aviv rebuffed South Korea on the military equipment although some reports have surfaced saying that Seoul is still pursuing the system.  

After years of South Korea insisting it was still considering joining the U.S.-led regional missile defense system, the U.S. more or less endorsed Seoul’s KAMD system at the ROK-U.S. 2+2 talks in June 2012. Although Seoul has claimed the KAMD system can be integrated into the existing U.S. system, some defense analysts have questioned how extensive this integration would actually be.

Following the endorsement in June, last October the two sides announced revisions to a treaty that restricted the range and payload sizes South Korea of missiles, giving Seoul the green light to ramp up its missile capabilities.

The ROK has hit the ground running ever since. In February of this year it vowed to speed up the completion of the KAMD system, which was initially expected to be in place in 2015. It also announced it is developing an indigenous ballistic missile capable of reaching all of North Korea. These would complement its existing domestically made cruise missiles that can already reach all of the North.

Following this announcement, South Korea said in April it would finally be opening its Air and Missile Defense Cell (AMD-Cell) in July. The AMD-Cell is a command and control center for the entire KAMD enterprise that was initially scheduled to be operational at the end of last year.

At the time of the April announcement, an unnamed ROK defense official told Yonhap that the AMD-Cell would analyze “information acquired from the U.S. early missile warning satellites and South Korea's radar system and sends it to Patriot missile units.”

Then, last month, South Korea announced it would be upgrading its KDX-III vessels with SM-6 surface-to-air missiles, which have a range of up to 400 km. The SM-6 systems are expected to be in place by 2016.

As expected, the budget unveiled this week proposed funding for the purchase of additional PAC-2 missile batteries, as well as PAC-3 upgrades to the existing systems. The PAC-3 upgrades appear to be a wise investment as South Korea's PAC-2s have had an intercept rate of 40 percent. Moreover, the PAC-3 can hit missiles at twice the altitude of its predecessor. 

What ties all these efforts together is the so-called “Kill Chain.” Seoul’s most ambitious program to date, the Kill Chain is a comprehensive set of indigenous satellites that South Korea hopes to have in place by 2021. These satellites would be integrated with the KAMD system with the goal of being able to detect North Korean missiles launches early enough to allow Seoul’s cruise and ballistic missiles to destroy them preemptively.

This will help the ROK military implement its new “active deterrence” doctrine, which was announced by Defense Minister Kim Kwan-jin during the thick of the Korean Peninsula crisis in April.