South Korea’s missile defense could be incorporated into US system

Posted on : 2013-10-03 14:48 KST Modified on : 2019-10-19 20:29 KST
Chuck Hagel says two systems simply need to be “interoperable” but questions remain over US-led three way system

By Park Byong-su, staff reporter

South Korea’s Air and Missile Defense (KAMD) system is becoming a key issue in discussions on the transfer of wartime operational command (OPCON) from the US.

The two countries discussed preparing a response to North Korea’s increased nuclear and missile capabilities on Oct. 2. But the incorporation of South Korea’s system into the one led by the US stands to trigger objections from China, which sees itself a target.

US Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel said at a press conference on Oct. 2 that “The South Korean and US missile defense systems don’t have to be identical as long as they are interoperable.” His remarks suggested that South Korea is not obliged to take part in the US system, but that the two countries’ systems should allow for linkages and interoperation.

The KAMD, which is now in the planning stages, would be in place and capable of intercepting North Korean missiles by 2022 at the latest.

A source with the South Korean military interpreted Hagel’s remarks as meaning that “there is no need for South Korea’s missile defense system to be integrated into the US’s . . . but the two sides need to exchange information on North Korean missile launches.”

Another source said on condition of anonymity, “In an environment like the Korean Peninsula where firing ranges are so short, the most effective missile defense system is low-altitude defense. We’re not participating in any system for high-altitude defense.”

Both South and North Korea have maximum firing ranges of just 1,000 km. The US missile defense system, in contrast, would be designed mainly to intercept intercontinental ballistic missiles.

Many are still concerned that the South Korean system could end up being incorporated into the US system.

“Chuck Hagel’s reference to ‘interoperability’ means linking the South Korean and US missile defense systems, plain and simple,” said Kim Jong-dae, editor-in-chief of the defense journal Defense 21+.

“It certainly seems that the US is using Seoul’s request for another postponement as a way of accomplishing its own longstanding desire to building a three-way missile defense system with South Korea and Japan,” Kim added.

Senior US officials have recently been speaking publicly on the issue. Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, discussed a “joint integrated missile defense system” while speaking to reporters on Sept. 30, saying that North Korean ballistic missiles pose a threat both to the Korean Peninsula and to regional security.

Adm. Samuel Locklear, who leads the US Pacific Command, said on Oct. 1 that one of the most important concerns was developing a regional missile defense network capable of protecting the Korean Peninsula and supporting the entire region.

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