Seoul decides to upgrade Patriots

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Seoul decides to upgrade Patriots

Korea has informed the United States of its intention to buy more advanced Patriot missiles in a bid to bolster its missile defense.

The Pentagon’s Defense Security Cooperation Agency notified the U.S. Congress of the possible sale of Patriot Anti-Tactical Missiles (ATMs) to Korea. This signifies that Seoul has submitted a procurement plan to Washington.

If it goes through, that purchase suggests Korea is building its own missile defense system for the future and may not be joining a U.S.-led system with Japan.

With a price tag of $404 million, the proposed purchase of 112 ATMs and associated equipment will allow for an upgrade of Korea’s existing missile interception program, Patriot Advanced Capability-2 (PAC-2). PAC-2 is the core of the Korea Air and Missile Defense System (KAMD), which kicked off in 2006 to protect South Korea from the threat of North Korean missiles.

The system is not yet fully operational, and its lower-tier equipment is designed to intercept short-range missiles. But after escalating threats from the North and the constant improvements in its missile technology, the Ministry of National Defense recently announced plans to beef up the KAMD system, including getting a “kill chain,” the ability to detect signs of an impending missile launch and conduct a preemptive strike.

The report to Congress said that the deployment of the ATMs will enhance PAC-2’s accuracy against incoming short-range ballistic missiles and cruise missiles. The purchase would also include modifications to Korea’s existing radar, communications system and remote launch capability, preparing for a more advanced missile defense program called PAC-3. The Ministry of National Defense plans to upgrade PAC-2 into PAC-3 by 2020.

The key advancement of PAC-3 is its ability to hit incoming hostile missiles and completely destroy them. PAC-2 only knocks incoming missiles off course with a fragmentation bomb. PAC-3 is known to be more effective in countering chemical and biological warheads.

The report said the proposed sale of ATMs will help Korea develop a more capable defense, and said it would have no difficulty absorbing and maintaining the new missile system.

The United States had hoped Korea would join its joint system with Japan that relies on different and more advanced technologies.

BY PARK EUN-JEE [ejpark@joongang.co.kr]

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