South Korean Air And Missile Defense Systems Look To Go Global
To defend South Korea from its unpredictable northern neighbor, the country’s missile industry has created the domestically developed, multitiered Korea Air and Missile Defense system. The products offer additional benefits as well—reducing the country’s reliance on U.S.-made systems and enabling its ability to engage threats across altitudes.
At the Seoul International Aerospace and Defense Exhibition on Oct. 17-22, South Korean defense prime LIG Nex1 showcased its portfolio of air defense missiles designed to meet modern threats, from the low-altitude missile defense (LAMD) system to defeat North Korean rocket attacks, to the long-range surface-to-air missile (L-SAM) capable of engaging threats from a distance of 160 km (100 mi.).
- Full integration between South Korean and NATO systems is lacking
- Western-Korean integration would ease supply chain shortfalls
South Korea developed its LAMD, also known as the “Korean Iron Dome,” after acknowledging that North Korea’s large-diameter multiple-launch rocket system posed an even greater threat than the rockets fired by Hamas and Hezbollah against Israel. Representatives from Hanwha Systems and LIG Nex 1 said at the exhibition that the LAMD has powerful radars and interceptors to detect, track and intercept a large volume of rocket attacks.
Similarly, the companies’ L-SAM system is designed to intercept Pyongyang’s aircraft as well as tactical and hypersonic ballistic missile threats, with an eye toward development completion by 2024.
Hanwha Aerospace’s Chunmoo multiple-launch rocket system (MLRS) is part of a multipronged “kill chain” war machine that aims to destroy North Korea’s ability to launch attacks on the south in the event of a conflict. Included in the Chunmoo arsenal are the CGR-080 guided rocket and the CTM-290 guided missile, with ranges of 80 km and 290 km, respectively.
Though South Korea’s short-term goal is to first arm itself, the Russia-Ukraine war that began in February 2022 gave South Korean missile systems newfound export opportunities. Western supply chains struggled to produce enough tanks and missiles to meet the burgeoning demand.
Poland was unwilling to wait for delivery of U.S. High-Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (Himars), instead acquiring 288 Chunmoo systems with the CGR-080 and CTM-290 rounds. Saudi Arabia also purchased an undisclosed number of Chunmoos in February 2022.
Despite growing interest in South Korean missiles, the weapons are still largely not integrated into Western systems.
A representative from Hanwha’s precision-guided munition division told Aviation Week at the exhibition that its guided systems are not integrated with NATO or U.S. equipment. Although it is ”technically possible” to install the missiles onto Western platforms such as Lockheed Martin’s Himars, the U.S. has not released relevant source codes that would allow such integration. In the case of South Korea’s export to Poland, such source codes were not even a requirement.
The CTM-290 has a diameter of 600 mm, compared to the Lockheed MGM-140 Army Tactical Missile System’s 610 mm.
The representative added that Hanwha is in discussions for further sales with a number of NATO states in Europe—and these countries also have no intention of integrating them with the NATO systems.
LIG Nex1 and Hanwha System representatives said their air defense systems are paired almost exclusively with LIG Nex1 missiles and Hanwha radars and can only achieve low-level integration within its own Korea Air and Missile Defense system. South Korea has not achieved integration with U.S. forces stationed there, nor any cooperative engagement capability—such as, for example, for South Korean Aegis destroyers to provide uplink data to the L-SAM missile to engage a ballistic missile,
It appears at this stage that both South Korean and U.S. forces on the peninsula would operate independently in response to a missile barrage from North Korea, with each respective air defense system protecting its own interests.
This pattern is also true for air-launched munitions such as the Korean Air-Launched Cruise Missile, which is prioritized for integration on the Korea Aerospace Industries’ (KAI) KF-21 fighter instead of the already operational Boeing F-15K, due to restrictions from the U.S.
With the KAI FA-50 and Chunmoo missile both increasingly popular on the export market, South Korean defense systems are cultivating a new military ecosystem that is slowly finding its footing around the world. While the country’s large industrial capacity remains an attractive feature, a focus on software system integration with Western systems could help its platforms become truly relevant on the global arms market.