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Defense Ministry says Seoul needs SM-3s

Sept 14,2017
Seoul needs to deploy U.S. ship-based missile interceptors known as RIM-161 Standard Missile 3s, or SM-3s, to complete its low-altitude air and missile defense system against North Korea, according to an internal report by South Korea’s Ministry of National Defense that was exclusively acquired by the JoongAng Ilbo Monday.

Drafted in August and handed over by Bareun Party Rep. Kim Young-woo, a member on the parliamentary National Defense Committee, the report acknowledges that South Korea’s current low-altitude defense system, also known as the Korea Air and Missile Defense, or KAMD, is unable to intercept some North Korean missiles if they were to fly across the border.

A local government source who spoke on the condition of anonymity said the military wrote the report in order to start policy discussions on how Seoul could deploy the SM-3s, which are said to be able to target any North Korean missile fired from a normal angle, filling in a gap left by the country’s current defense systems, mainly comprising the Patriot and Cheongung interceptors that can target an incoming missile up to 20 kilometers (12 miles) high, and the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (Thaad) missile shield, which covers 40 to 150 kilometers in altitude.

An SM-3 has a range of up to 400 kilometers and can travel as far as 700 kilometers away.

The ministry stressed that the defense system would especially come in handy if North Korea carries out an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) attack, as it recently threatened.

Under that scenario, the ministry said it was likely North Korea would blast its warhead-triggered EMP about 60 to 80 kilometers above ground, which can effectively be targeted by an SM-3.

An EMP attack, a high-intensity burst of electromagnetic energy, is intended to wipe out the country’s power grid.

North Korea’s latest strategy to escape Thaad interception, the military wrote in the report, is to fire its missiles at an angle higher than average. If the North were to fire an intermediate-range Musudan missile at an angle 30 to 45 degrees higher than average, for example, its maximum speed when coming down could reach Mach 15, faster than sound.

The military said such a speed would make it “difficult” for South Korea’s current system to block. The SM-3, on the other hand, would have a better chance at targeting it, according to the report.

The cost to deploy a standard SM-3 system was estimated at 787.2 billion won ($698 million), or one-third the cost of Thaad. One major obstacle for the South, however, would be opposition from China and Russia, which both also opposed Thaad.

BY LEE CHUL-JAE [lee.sungeun@joongang.co.kr]


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