Republic of Korea

January 9, 2018


The geostrategic position of the Republic of Korea (ROK) is difficult given its proximity to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK/North Korea), which may be fast approaching ballistic missile program readiness – as well as developing a weapons of mass destruction program.

The Republic of Korea is to a great extent dependent on U.S. security guarantees. In recent years, it has relied on the United Nations Security Counsel to help reign in the dictatorship to the North. China has recently urged North Korea to disengage in the programs alleged to be building nuclear bomb-carrying ballistic missiles.

South Korea elected not to join the US-led global missile defense system, but has in the meantime developed a defense entity similar to the Missile Defense Agency in the United States and the Missile Defence Centre from the United Kingdom.

Ballistic Missile Defense Capabilities in the ROK

System Operator Number Deployed
Patriot/PAC-3 United States Eight batteries  
THAAD (with corresponding AN/TPY-2 radar) United States One battery with corresponding radar  

The Republic of Korea has hosted missile defense systems since the United States stationed the 1st Battalion, 43rd Air Defense Artillery in the ROK in 1994 in response to North Korea’s threats to suspend the armistice on the Korean Peninsula.

In 2006, the Republic of Korea announced it would create its own indigenous missile defense system, the Korean Air and Missile Defense System (KAMD). The KAMD is outside of the U.S. led regional ballistic missile defense system and came in response to North Korea’s first nuclear test.

In May 2007, the ROK Navy launched the Sejong the Great (DDG 991) its first Aegis-equipped guided missile destroyer.[i] It was followed by the Yulgok Yi I (DDG 992) in November 2008 and the Seoae Ryu Seong-ryong (DDG 993) in June 2011. The Sejong the Great-class destroyer, equipped with SM-2 air defense interceptor, is not currently BMD-capable. All three ships were jointly produced by Lockheed Martin and South Korea’s Hyundai Heavy Industries.

The ROK announced it would speed up completion of its KAMD system and open its Air and Missile Defense Cell (AMD-Cell) in July 2013. The AMD-Cell is a command and control center for the KAMD enterprise. The ROK also announced plans to upgrade its three Aegis equipped destroyers with SM-6 surface-to-air missile by 2016. The AMD-Cell was opened following North Korea’s missile and nuclear tests in December 2012 and February 2013, which spurred the ROK to increase defense funding.

Air Defense Capabilities in the ROK

System Role Number Deployed Platform
MIM-104 Patriot/PAC-2 Medium- to long-range air defense (PAC-2 GEM/T interceptors) Eight batteries Road-mobile  
SM-2/Aegis Combat System Long-range air defense Deployed on three vessels Sejong the Great-class destroyers (3)  
ESSM/Aegis Combat System Medium-range air defense Deployed on three vessels Sejong the Great-class destroyers (3)  
Chunma (K-SAM) Short-range air defense Over 100 Ground-mobile  
KM-SAM (Cheolmai-2) Medium-range air defense Unknown Road-mobile  

In April 2014, the Republic of Korea’s arms procurement agency approved a $1.3 billion plan to upgrade its PAC-2 air defense system and buy PAC-3 missiles by 2020.[ii] In November 2015, the ROK announced it will complement its seaborne SM-2 with an indigenously designed and constructed system, the Korean Surface-to-Air Anti-Missile system (K-SAAM).

Current Developments

Due to the rising threat from the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, the ROK has expressed interest in ballistic missile defense systems. It is interested in research and development of different missile defense related technologies from the U.S. and other countries, such as Israel. The United States has become increasingly involved in in the defense of South Korea and is aware of the threat North Korea could present to the West, moving battleships with missile defense technology towards Guam and other areas in the Pacific.

In July 2016, the United States and South Korea agreed to deploy a U.S. THAAD missile defense system (and corresponding AN/TPY-2 radar) in South Korea.[iii] This decision came in response to North Korea’s provocative actions throughout the year, conducting two nuclear tests and tens of missile tests and demonstrating significant progress for the country’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs. Deployment of THAAD on the Peninsula is meant to mitigate the missile threat from North Korea and marks the first time a U.S. THAAD system will be deployed outside of U.S. territory.

Lockheed Martin, in July 2017, was awarded a $130.3 million foreign military sales contract for PAC-3 anti-ballistic missile systems.[iv] The contract will provide for 35 missile segment enhancements, 100 launcher modifications kits, parts, software, and missile round trainers. Recipients include Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, the Republic of Korea, and Taiwan.

Amid the rising tensions with North Korea, South Korea installed the remaining launchers for the US anti-missile THAAD system on a former golf course in the south in September 2017. Two launchers had already been deployed.[v]

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