S. Korea says it is developing missiles as powerful as tactical nukes to deter N. Korea

Posted on : 2021-09-03 18:32 KST Modified on : 2021-09-03 18:32 KST
Following the lift of ban on longer ranged missiles, the Korean military is developing higher capacity missiles to offset threats from North
The Republic of Korea Navy’s Aegis destroyer fires a Haeseong II missile amid North Korean missile testing in November 2017. (provided by the Republic of Korea Navy)
The Republic of Korea Navy’s Aegis destroyer fires a Haeseong II missile amid North Korean missile testing in November 2017. (provided by the Republic of Korea Navy)

South Korea’s Ministry of National Defense has announced that it “will continue acquiring various missiles with increased destructive power” over the next five years to offset the threat posed by North Korea’s nuclear weapons and missiles.

Some analysts think the ministry is looking to develop ballistic missiles that will be nearly as powerful as tactical nuclear weapons, which some Korean politicians want the US to redeploy on the peninsula.

In the 2022-2026 medium-term defense plan published on Thursday, the ministry laid out several principles for the missiles that the military will seek to develop.

First, the missiles should be capable of going further, hitting harder and striking with greater precision. Second, they should be more powerful and cover a range of formats, including surface-to-surface and ship-to-surface. Third, they should have an enhanced ability to strike key targets and deter potential threats, in line with the US and Korea’s decision this past May to scrap their missile guidelines.

The Korean military has the surface-to-surface ballistic missile Hyunmoo-2 — 1.5-ton payload, but last year successfully tested the more powerful Hyunmoo-4 — two tons. The country also has the cruise missile Hyunmoo-3 (500 kilograms) as well as the ship-to-surface cruise missile Haeseong-2 and submarine-to-surface cruise missile Haeseong-3.

The Korean military began a new era of higher missile capacity after the Korea-US summit on May 21, when the ban on Seoul developing its own missiles with ranges over 800 kilometers was lifted. The Defense Ministry on May 31 said in a working-level report to the National Assembly's National Defense Committee, "Boost defense capacity following the end of the missile range guideline."

To this end, the ministry mentioned reinforcing and developing military power to strengthen defense capacity led by the military, adding plans to develop various platforms to run air- and sea-based space projectiles.

Right after the limit on missile range expired, the ministry announced plans to augment its capabilities. Speculation arose regarding the development of a substantially more powerful Hyunmoo-5 and a new ship-to-surface missile.

Multiple military sources told Yonhap News that the development of a surface-to-surface ballistic missile with a three-ton payload was in its final stage and that deployment would come after several rounds of testing. Some say these could be used as tactical nuclear missiles that could hit an enemy's mine tunnels or underground command posts.

The ministry's document hinted at the military's strong intent to develop advanced homegrown missiles, saying, "Mine tunnels and buildings can be destroyed through attacks on existing ground-based targets, and the margin for error is reduced from the size of a tennis court to that of a building entrance."

By Gil Yun-hyung, staff reporter

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