South Korean Long Range Missiles
South Korea and the U.S. agreed to end their missile guidelines during their bilateral summit in May 2021. Now that all the restrictions have been scrapped, as agreed upon at the South Korea-U.S. summit in May, South Korea has regained “missile sovereignty” after 42 years. It can now independently develop mid-range ballistic missiles with a range of over 1,000 kilometers, putting all of Northeast Asia within range. Considering that North Korea is developing an intercontinental ballistic missile, the termination of decades-old restrictions on South Korean missiles will further improve South Korea’s military capabilities against the North.
The leaders of South Korea and the United States held summit talks on 21 May 2021 at the White House for the first time since U.S. President Joe Biden took office earlier this year. The two presidents discussed a wide array of topics. President Moon Jae-in announced the allies’ decision to terminate the bilateral missile guidelines, which had restricted the range and payload of missiles developed in Seoul. The move allows Seoul to obtain complete missile sovereignty for the first time in 42 years, after the guidelines was set in 1979. South Korea and the United States agreed to abolish the current missile use guidelines, which limited South Korea's missile range to 800 kilometers. The guidelines had also limited other details around the development and ownership of missiles, and their removal meant Seoul now had autonomy over its missile program.
Back in 1979, Seoul had agreed to obtain U.S. missiles and missile technology under close watch from Washington. While the maximum range first stood at 180 km it was extended in 2001 to 300 km and then in 2012 that range was further extended to 800 km putting parts of China, Japan, and Russia within missile range. Since 2017 updates turned to the details rather than the range. In 2017, the payload cap of 500 kg was removed allowing South Korea's military to develop missiles that could hit most underground facilities in North Korea. In 2020, the use of solid-fuel was allowed for space launch vehicles paving the way for the country's advances in space travel.
Revising the guidelines twice already in his term, President Moon set lifting them completely as one of his goals. And over the years the U.S. has been reluctantly forced to accept the revisions as the gap between South and North Korea's missile technology was becoming a concern, but an abolishment of the terms is a huge change in stance.
The lifting of restrictions on the flight range of South Korean missiles is meant to cope with North Korea’s military threat and also hold neighboring countries, including China, in check. China does not like the termination of the missile guidelines, but it stops short of mentioning it at the governmental level. The recent North Korean article said that the end of the missile guidelines could be a threat to neighboring countries, apparently protesting against the move on behalf of China. By reflecting on China’s position in its article, North Korea shows that it sides with its communist ally.
The United States and South Korea struck a new deal on long range missiles which would allow Seoul to deploy longer-range ballistic missiles capable of hitting targets in all of North Korea, Yonhap news agency reported on 08 October 2012. “The agreement, known as the ‘missile guideline,’ calls for extending the maximum range of South Korean ballistic missiles from the current 300 kilometers to 800 kilometers, a distance long enough to reach the northern tip of North Korea,” the agency quoted presidential security aide Chun Yung-woo as saying. Under the new agreement, South Korea can load ballistic missile warheads heavier than the prior limit of 500 kilograms, providing the ranges decreases in proportion, while warheads of up to 1.5 tons can be put on missiles if the range remains at 300 km. The deal also increases the maximum payload for a South Korean unmanned aerial vehicle to 2.5 tons from the current 500 kilograms.
Under an agreement with Washington in 1972, Seoul agreed to set its missile range ceiling at 180 km in exchange for US missile technology. Through reverse-engineering of US-supplied missiles, South Korea produced two versions of a two-stage, solid-fuel SSM based on the US Nike Hercules surface-to-air missile: NHK-1 (180 km/500 kg) and NHK-2 (260 kn/450 kg). South Korea also produced a variant of the Honest John heavy artillery rocket (37 km/500 kg). A cluster warhead system was sold to South Korea in 1977 but most countries had phased out this weapon by the 1980s.
Unlike the systematic and ambitious missile development of North Korea, South Korea has proceeded with the support and under the control of the US. South Korea's missile development started during the later years of former President Park Chung-Hee with an aim to reduce the gap in missile capability between the both Koreas.
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. This forced South Korea to seek a different route to import missile technology. Recognizing the intention of South Korea, the US urged the South Korean government to sign a written agreement that South Korea should not develop missiles over a certain range.
Considering the important relationship between South Korea and the US, the South Korean government agreed to restraints on the range and payload of missiles when developing the first South Korean ground-to-ground missile called Baekkom / Baek Gom [almost never Paekgom] (White Bear). Since then, the US applied stricter restraints (180 km/500 kg) than the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) on South Korea. The Paekgom was test-launched successfully in 1978, but was never deployed in actual service at to the request of the US.
North Korea test-fired its Taepodong-1 missile, with an estimated range of more than 1,300 km, in August 1998. Subsequently, in 1999 Seoul asked Washington to agree to extend South Korea's missile range to 300km for deployment and to 500 km for scientific research and development.
The ROK-US missile guidelines deal with mutual cooperation in missiles, but at the same time restricted the range of ROK missiles. When signed in the 1970s, the guidelines restricted the ROK's missile capacity to a 180 kilometer range and with a 500 kilogram payload. In 2001, the missile pact was renegotiated to extend the permitted range of missiles to 300 kilometers. While the guidelines have hampered the ROK from enhancing its missile capabilities, North Korea emerged as a missile power. In the early 1980s, North Korea began to manufacture Scud missiles and successfully deployed 600 Scud B's with a range of 300km and Scud C's with a range of 500km, and 200 Rodong missiles with a range of 1,300km. (Chosun Ilbo, July 8, 2009, page 35)
Oct. 8, 2012 South Korea and the U.S. have agreed on a revision of the ballistic missile guidelines, which were last revised 11 years ago, including extending the range of the missile from 300 kilometers to 800 kilometers (186 miles to 497miles). The Korean government attributed the agreed drastically increased missile capacity to the closest ever partnership between the two countries in general and solid trust between the presidents of the two in particular. It was believed that it was thanks to the closest ever bilateral ties between the two nations that in the process of the missile negotiation what the Korean side wants was reflected at an optimum level, although it is a very sensitive issue in international politics.
It was known that whenever the missile negotiations reached a deadlock, President Lee Myung-bak made every effort to initiate the talks between the two sides, making the maximum use of his talks with U.S. President Barack Obama. Despite disagreement among experts, President Lee persuaded President Obama to have him make a political decision allowing Korea to develop its longer-range ballistic missiles.
With a heightened need to establish a response force against the enemy's WMD following North Korea's third nuclear test, the Ministry of National Defense (MND) officially announced that it independently developed a cruise missile that can strike all areas in North Korea and has fielded these missiles.
On 13 February 2013, the MND stated, "We have independently developed and fielded cruise missiles, possessing the precision and destructive power matching the world's best missiles, that can strike any target in North Korea in a moment's notice. We plan to disclose the details of this missile in the near future." The MND also announced, "We will accelerate the process of developing an 800km ballistic missile, which puts the entire North Korea within its range, based on the new missile guidance" and re-emphasized its plan to field this new ballistic missile as soon as possible.
In addition, the MND explained, "In order to enable the real-time utilization of our military's missile capabilities, we will exert our efforts to establish the 'kill chain,' which is a system that will allow the detection, identification, decision-making, and strike process to be initiated in a seamless and immediate manner, at the earliest time possible."
Once the ROK military possesses ballistic missiles with a longer range along with the current cruise missiles whose destructive power has been enhanced, it will be possible to carry out a preemptive strike against North Korean missiles or WMD before they are launched. The ROK military plans to establish the Korea Air and Missile Defense (KAMD) which will be designed to intercept those North Korean missiles in air that have not been taken out by the ROK's cruise and ballistic missiles.After disclosing these plans, the MND emphasized, "Our military will continue to maintain a firm readiness posture based on these capabilities, and we will resolutely respond to any military provocation committed by North Korea. Our military has the resolve and the capability to firmly punish North Korea if they carry out additional provocations."
Meanwhile, the ROK military is closely monitoring North Korea's movements while placing special interest on the possibility of another provocation by North Korea. In particular, we are conducting close surveillance activities on any movements related to additional nuclear tests by fully employing the combined surveillance assets of the ROK and the US. With regard to this situation, an MND official added, "The MND-JCS Joint Crisis Management Task Force that we have been operating has been elevated to a major general led organization. We are also preparing against possible enemy fires provocations, enemy infiltration into our rear area, and acts of terror against key national facilities."
South Korea can now use solid fuel to launch vehicles into space. It had not been allowed to before, but effective 28 July 2020, those restrictions had been lifted following a revision to missile guidelines between South Korea and the US. "All South Korean companies, research institutes and private individuals will be able to freely research, develop, produce and possess various types of launch vehicles without any restrictions, including those driven by solid fuel and hybrid engines."
Solid-fuel rockets are faster to launch and cost efficient. The move is expected to boost the country's intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities as it will allow South Korea to launch low orbit spy satellites on solid fuel rockets at any time or place. The top office said that this, in part, will prepare the country for the transfer of wartime operational control from the US.
It's also expected to give related industries a boost as the government and private sector can develop solid fuel space rockets. The change was negotiated over a period of nine months after President Moon Jae-in ordered October last year that the issue be resolved because the restrictions were hindering development.
"If all goes according to plan, South Korea's intelligence and surveillance capabilities will rapidly improve following the launch of locally made low-orbit solid fuel rockets. Also, the revision provides a foundation on which to improve our space infrastructure, which can open a path for the Korean New Deal to expand into space."
The missile guidelines were first drawn up in 1979 to regulate South Korea's missile development. They were revised most recently in 2017 to get rid of a limit on the payload weight of South Korean ballistic missiles with a range of 800 kilometers. The top office said that the range limit remains in place but that it can be negotiated "in due time." When asked whether the revision has any connection to the ongoing defense cost-sharing negotiations, the top office said it had no relevance and stressed that they did not offer any benefits in return.
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