South Korea vows to ‘strongly retaliate’ against threats from the North
The North Korean nuclear threat persists as Pyongyang remains relentless in conducting nuclear tests and missile launches. Previous nuclear tests have included the use of highly enriched uranium and plutonium, with a January 2016 nuclear test conducted with a more powerful hydrogen bomb.
A satellite launch followed in February 2016 and a missile test launch commenced from a submarine in April 2016. The unusual pace of North Korean rocket and nuclear testing has analysts taking the threats quite seriously, with some speculating that North Korea has the capability to miniaturize a nuclear weapon and place it on an intercontinental ballistic missile.
“These provocations only serve to increase the international community’s resolve to counter the DPRK’s [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea] prohibited activities, including through implementing existing U.N. Security Council sanctions,” U.S. State Department spokesman John Kirby said in June 2016, according to digital news publication International Business Times. “We intend to raise our concerns at the U.N. to bolster the international resolve in holding the DPRK accountable for these provocative actions.”
There’s no indication of North Korea backing down any time soon.
In fact, the North is progressing with its ballistic missile development program concentrated on both solid- and liquid-propelled missiles, which can be ground launched. It’s also working toward strengthening sea-based deterrence by developing submarine-launched ballistic missiles and developing long-range artillery systems deployed in the Demilitarized Zone to target Seoul.
The incessant threats have only prompted South Korea to bolster its national security program, with President Park Geun-hye directing military leaders in June 2016 to “strongly retaliate” against the North if provoked, according to The Korea Herald newspaper.
“We will never condone North Korea’s provocations that threaten the stability and peace of the Korean Peninsula, and in close cooperation with the international community, we will continue to apply strong sanctions and pressure until the North takes a path of change,” Park said.
South Korea’s Response
In the meantime, South Korea has already begun developing an amalgamation of offensive and defensive responses. Seoul is developing ballistic missiles with an 800-kilometer range and 500-kilogram payload. These offensive missiles are a component of Seoul’s “kill chain,” a pre-emptive strike system that would target North Korean missile systems before they are launched.
Discussions about this plan have captured the attention of local media, with South Korea’s largest news agency, Yonhap, saying the country has reached a turning point in dealing with the North and must reinforce its defense plans.
“The government must reinforce its defense systems to deal with the North’s real threats,” Yonhap News Agency said in a June 2016 editorial. “Our military must elevate the capability of our ‘kill chain’ system aimed at destroying North Korean missiles before they are launched.”
As part of its reinforced plan, South Korea hopes to develop the indigenous Korean Air and Missile Defense (KAMD) system. What has already attracted international and local attention, however, is the planned deployment of the U.S. Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system to Seongju, about 200 kilometers from Seoul. The U.S. wants to deploy THAAD in South Korea to further expand the common missile defense architecture in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region to counter threats from North Korean missiles. Some in Seoul, however, fear that THAAD will not be capable of protecting Seoul against low-flying missiles or against long-range artillery threats. Therefore, it is working diligently on the KAMD to address these issues.
The KAMD system is based on the Israeli C3I Citron Tree system and two Green Pine early warning radars. The KAMD involves early warning radars, ship-to-air and land-based missile defense systems. This would enable Seoul to track and shoot down the North Korean low-flying, short- and medium-range missiles. South Korea would upgrade its Patriot system while also possessing the SM-2 Block III and the Israeli Green Pine radar system.
The SPY-1D radar system would be part of its Aegis Combat System. There could be a possibility of deploying SM-6 interceptors, advanced versions of the SM-2 Block III on the Aegis destroyers.
Technology Upgrades and Advances
In 2015, South Korea awarded U.S. contractor Raytheon U.S. $770 million to upgrade the country’s existing Patriot systems and the PAC-3 variants by 2020. These systems are more advanced than the PAC-2 with capabilities to launch more interceptors and with technical upgrades.
The PAC-3s consist of extended-range interceptors and MPQ-53 phased array radar. Reports reveal the PAC-3 systems would replace the obsolete Nike Hercules SAM systems, which have proven inaccurate on several occasions when test fired.
Seoul is also reported to be developing the long-range surface-to-air missile system (L-SAM), which provides enhanced capacity to develop a multilayered defense system. The L-SAM would enable Seoul to intercept ballistic missiles at higher altitudes.
Seoul also plans to develop the medium-range surface-to-air missile (M-SAM) called Cheolmae-II as an element of KAMD. The missile would replace the obsolete U.S. medium-range MIM-23 Hawk missiles.
A South Korean Defense Acquisition Program Administration official said the indigenously developed M-SAMs would reduce the defense budget. The M-SAM and Patriot Advance Capability (PAC) systems would aim to intercept incoming ballistic missiles from adversaries should the L-SAM fail to intercept them at higher altitudes. Therefore, the KAMD would comprise PAC-2, PAC-3, L-SAM and M-SAM.
Amid these developments, however, and with continued provocations and tests conducted by the North, South Korea began negotiating on the THAAD system and in early July 2016, decided to deploy it.
South Korea also faces a threat from long-range artillery systems, especially from the multilaunch rocket systems (MLRs). Seoul is working on GPS-guided munitions to counter threats from MLRs. South Koreans believe the KAMD and the kill chain would ensure that North Korea realizes that Pyongyang’s missile and nuclear capabilities would be rendered useless by Seoul.
The right mix of offense and defense can prove to be the best deterrence against a North Korean threat. Seoul’s venture into the kill chain system implies that it wants to destroy the threat before it is unleashed. Destroying offensive systems of the North is the best defense for South Korea. However, the air and missile defense system would ensure that, should South Korea fail to destroy North Korea’s offensive capabilities, the missile defense would counter the residual missiles. This is crucial because North Korean missiles are survivable, and Seoul may find it difficult to wipe out the entire missile arsenal of Pyongyang.
Park has remained steadfast on the matter during her remarks, and she wants North Korea to know the South stands united with international allies to respond to any threat.