[Viewpoint] Seoul needs to extend missile range

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[Viewpoint] Seoul needs to extend missile range

In 1942, Nazi Germany had taken over most of Europe and was hard at work developing the V-2 rocket in order to attack Britain. By the end of World War II in 1945, the Nazis had produced over 6,000 V-2 rockets and used 3,400 of them to attack the Allies. Among them, 1,500 rockets were launched against London. Londoners were frightened by the world’s first ballistic missiles propelled by alcohol and liquid oxygen housed in an aluminum tank. Over 2,600 people were killed by V-2 rockets in London.

After the war, the former Soviet Union took some of the V-2 rocket specialists from Germany. The first Soviet missile made by the German scientists was the Scud. These missiles were first deployed by the Soviet Army, and North Korea obtained the technology from Egypt in 1981.

From the original Scud model, North Korea developed the 340 kilometer-range Scud B, 550 kilometer-range Scud C and midrange Rodong-1, with a range of 1,300 kilometers. Currently, North Korea has over 600 Scud and 200 Rodong-1 missiles deployed. The V-2 rockets that had threatened London 60 years ago have transformed into Scud and Rodong-1 and are aimed at South Korea.

Short-range Scud B and Scud C missiles are positioned in Jiha-ri, only 50 kilometers north of the demarcation line. All of South Korea falls within their range. It only takes three to five minutes for the missile to fly to Seoul. Midrange missiles, such as Rodong-1, are positioned in Yeongjeo-ri, Yanggang Province, on the border with China. Military intelligence authorities expect that the Scud and Rodong-1 would be launched to attack South Korea and maybe Japan during the early stages of a war.

Therefore, South Korean armed forces have taken military measures to respond to possible missile attacks from the North. If possible, the prime objective in case of war would be to remove the missiles with precision air strikes before they could be launched. However, that plan has a problem. There are so many missiles in the North that it would be hard to overwhelm them all simultaneously. Moreover, the Hyeonmu and ATACMS missiles we possess have a range of 300 kilometers, so they cannot reach the Rodong-1 base in the rear. And it is dangerous to send Air Force fighters to do the job. In reality, Korea is currently helpless against the North’s midrange ballistic missiles.

North Korea recently launched several missiles, and the public is calling for enhanced missile capability by South Korean armed forces. The public is right. South Korea’s missile range should be extended to over 300 kilometers. And just in time, USFK commander Walter Sharp told aides to members of the Senate Armed Services Committee on July 2 that revision of the South Korea-U.S. missile restrictions is open for discussion. The missile restrictions prohibit South Korea from developing and producing ballistic missiles with a range longer than 300 kilometers and a warhead heavier than 500 kilograms. The restrictions were contained in a pledge Korea made when it received parts from the United States to produce Hyeonmu missiles in the early 1990s. At first, the range was limited to 180 kilometers, the distance between Seoul and Pyongyang, and was later extended to 300 kilometers in the late 1990s.

However, it’s time we discuss revising or abolishing the missile restrictions with the United States. Before we talk about the missile sovereignty issue, it is necessary to defend South Korea. The South should be able to follow the Missile Technology Control Regime that it joined in 1995. The MTCR says rockets or ballistic missiles with a range over 300 kilometers and warheads of over 500 kilograms are not to be exported. The convention does not regulate development and production of missiles with a purpose of defending the country from the North Korean threat. Just like China and North Korea, having the ballistic missiles is allowed as long as we do not export them. If changes are adopted, experts think that a range of 800 to 1,000 kilometers that does not go beyond the Korean Peninsula would be most effective strategically.

When South Korea can respond effectively to the nuclear and missile threats posed by the North by extending its ballistic missile range, we can more effectively convince North Korea to give up its nuclear program.


*The writer is a JoongAng Ilbo staff reporter who specializes in military issues.

by Kim Min-seok

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