Nike Hercules

By 1990 South Korea had hundreds of Nike missiles with a range of 180 kilometers (108 miles) as a key ground-to-air deterrence against the North's air attacks. The missile was developed by Raytheon of the United States in 1958. Over 200 launchers are deployed over 20 sites.

The military launched a series of reliability tests since December 1998 when a Nike missile accidentally fired and exploded over a residential area in the western city of Incheon, injuring several people and causing massive property losses. A Nike missile again self-destructed over a major city south of Seoul in 1999. The military imposed a ban on live-fire exercise of the missiles in 2000 due to safety fears.

The Air Force decided in 2001 to examine its Nike Hercules surface-to-air missiles, which had been deployed in the country since 1965. The scrutiny was conducted jointly with the state-run Agency for Defense Development and private LG Innotek. The measure came after ADD's report that more than 90 percent of Nike middle-range missiles were unable to fire warheads in recent tests. Only eight out of 100 Nike Hercules missiles had succeeded in launching their warheads during a reliability test three years earlier, while only 19 were able to shoot up first-stage propellant motors. The ADD report sparked complaints about the U.S.-made missiles and concerns about South Korea's air defense readiness against rival North Korea which has developed long-range ballistic missiles.

Hyunmoo I / Hyunmoo II
Nike-Hercules Variant (NHK-1/-2/-A)

The Hyunmoo system [the name roughly translates as "guardian angel of the northern skies"], has been indigenously developed in the Agency for Defense Development and now it is in service by ROK Army. Through reverse-engineering of U.S.-supplied missiles, South Korea produced two versions of a two-stage, solid-fuel SSM based on the U.S. Nike Hercules surface-to-air missile: NHK-1 (180 km/500 kg) and NHK-2 (260 km/450 kg). The missile is launched from the mobile launcher and fire-controlled by the battery control van. The Hyunmoo missile, which is propelled by two-stage solid rocket motor and features inertial guidance and control system, can reach the heart of its intended targets under any weather conditions without any commands from ground after fire. The missile is approximately 12m long, weighting 5 tons.

The ROK military received its first Nike Hercules from the United States in 1960. During the 1970s, the ROK's Agency for Defense Development began to modify the missile in an attempt to increase range, improve accuracy, and transform the missile to strike ground targets. By 1975, the Agency had developed a version of the missile, the NHK-1, that could reach a range of 150 km. Nike-Hercules, the American missile deployed in South Korea, was used as a model for development. With poor foundation in industrial technologies, South Korea requested US support for related equipment and technology, but could not get the agreement of the US Department of State.

In 1978, the ROK test fired the NHK-1's successor, the NHK-2. This missile reportedly possessed improved electronics and warhead munitions, and could strike targets up to 250 km away depending upon the weight of the payload. Under the terms of a 1979 Memorandum of Understanding signed between the United States and South Korea, the ROK was prohibited from developing ballistic missiles with ranges greater than 180 km. After providing the US with the guarantee correspondence, South Korea started to produce a limited number of Hyunmoo missiles and was under the inspection of the US until the production ended.

For many years the Hyunmoo was the only ballistic missile developed by South Korea actually deployed. This missile improved the first stage propelling device that was a problem in the indigenous Baekkom / Paekgom ballistic missile. The first test-launch of the Hyunmoo II was successful in 1982; following domestic twists and turns due to internal political situation of South Korea until the second test-launch in September 1985 flight test by the Defense Systems Test Center (DSTC).

In 1986, South Korea succeeded in a test-launch in the current capacity with a payload of 480 kg and a range of 180 km. During the late 1980s, the United States expressed concern that the NHK-2's technical capabilities violated the parameters of the 1979 MoU between the United States and South Korea. The US withheld the export approval of Hyunmoo in 1990, and requested South Korea to provide technical information on the Hyunmoo. This led to a 1990 inspection by the United States of the missiles. Although U.S. inspectors confirmed the missile's 180 km range to be in compliance with the bilateral agreement, they also concluded that the NHK-2 could be modified to hit targets 250 km away. It appears, however, that the United States knew many years prior to the inspections that the NHK-2's range could be increased significantly by vertically stacking three identical stages or by clustering smaller stages horizontally.

During the late 1990s South Korea attempted to alter the terms of the 1979 Memorandum of Understanding by seeking membership in the Missile Technology Control Regime. It appears that the ROK wanted regime membership for two reasons: On the one hand, the ROK wanted to obtain some level of technical independence from the United States on the missile issue so that it can build missiles to strike targets throughout North Korea. On the other hand, MTCR membership gave South Korea access to missile and rocket technology of other regime members, thus allowing the ROK to make advances in its aerospace and space launch programs.

Several authors have implied that the NHK-2 could be modified to carry a nuclear weapon. In 1979, Ground Defense International concluded that "it may not be too difficult [for the ROK] to obtain a nuclear charge and thus produce a fine tactical nuclear weapon." 8 Peter Hayes also noted in his March 1993 study "International Missile Trade and the Two Koreas," that the Nike Hercules could carry a 0.1 - 0.5 ton warhead, "a considerable distance."

The Government of the Republic of Korea provided the US Government with an umbrella assurances letter March 19, 2009 concerning components suppliedy by the US to Korea for the NHK upgrades. Korea gave its assurances that unless the prior written consent of the Government of the United States of America had been first obtained: A) The items will not be used in the design, development, manufacture, launch or operation of any delivery system for weapons of mass destruction or in the conversion of any other delivery system for weapons of mass destruction; B) The items will be used only for the purpose stated, (which is to be used as spare parts for the maintenance and operation of the Nike Hercules II Missile), and such use will not be modified nor the items themselves modified or replicated without the prior consent of the U.S. Government; C) Neither the items, nor replicas, nor derivatives thereof, will be retransferred without the consent of the US Government; and D) For the purpose of these assurances, a delivery system for weapons of mass destruction is agreed to include any complete rocket system (including ballistic missiles, space launch vehicles, and sounding rockets) or unmanned air vehicle system (including cruise missile systems, target drones and reconnaissance drones) that is: a) intended to deliver nuclear, chemical, or biological weapons: or b) capable of delivering a payload of at least 500 kg to a range of at least 300 km.

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