S. Korea joins arms race in Northeast Asia to develop hypersonic missiles

By Lim Chang-won Posted : August 6, 2020, 10:36 Updated : August 6, 2020, 10:49

[Yonhap News Photo]

SEOUL -- Satisfied with its technological advance in missile capabilities and guided systems, South Korea has expressed its desire to join an arms race among major powers such as the United States, China and Russia in developing hypersonic missiles, which are too fast to be intercepted by any current missile defense system.

The two Koreas have been locked in a race to develop and produce various missiles, with North Korea taking the upper hand in extending the range of missiles. South Korea had focused on guided systems and missiles with precision-strike, but Pyongyang's push for the development of nuclear weapons prompted Seoul to extend the range of ballistic missiles.

"From now, our military will accelerate the development of technologies on guided weapons with precise guide function, long-range and hypersonic missiles, high-power warheads and a Korean-style satellite navigation system to further upgrade our missile capabilities," Defense Minister Jeong Kyeong-doo said in a speech on August 5 at the Agency for Defense Development (ADD), a state-run defense technology research body.

The agency has been involved in the development of crucial weapons and missiles including the Hyunmoo-2A with a range of 300 km, the Hyunmoo-2B that can fly over 500 km, the Hyunmoo-2C with a range of 800 km, and the Hyunmoo-3 cruise missile with a range of 1,000 km. This year, South Korea has succeeded in developing the Hyunmoo-4 with a range of 800 km and a warhead weight of two tons.

"We recently succeeded in developing a ballistic missile with sufficient range and the world's largest warhead weight to protect peace on the Korean Peninsula," Jeong said, referring to the Hyunmoo-4.

A 2012 missile accord allowed Seoul to extend the range of its ballistic missiles from 300 to 800 km but the maximum payload was limited to 500 kg. Washington allowed Seoul in 2017 to deploy missiles that can fly for up to 800 km with no limit in its payload. In July, Washington revised the missile accord and allowed Seoul to use solid fuels for space rockets.

Jeong called for the development of new weapons that can change the paradigm of battlefields, such as new concept guided weapons, stealth unmanned aerial vehicles, and high-powered laser weapons, to strengthen South Korea's advanced defense technology capabilities.

South Korea is developing supersonic anti-ship missiles that can travel faster than the speed of sound. High Mach numbers make them more survivable against shipboard defenses. Other advanced weapons in use included the Korea Tactical Surface-to-Surface Missile (KTSSM) with a range of over 120 km, developed by Hanwha.

The KTSSM is a simplified version of the MGM-140 Army Tactical Missile System (ATacMS) manufactured by Lockheed Martin. It is a new type of ballistic guided missiles known as artillery killer because it penetrates underground targets with its powerful warhead.

Poniard, a low-cost multiple launch rocket system with guided rockets passed an evaluation test by the Pentagon. It's South Korea's first home-made guided weapon to be available for sale in the U.S. arms market. The Poniard is a 70mm (2.75-inch) low-cost guided imaging rocket with a flying range of about 8 km. It is a standalone weapon system with one shot one kill and fire-and-forget capability. Once the rocket is launched, no designation of the target is needed as it flies automatically towards its target.
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