Defense mobilized to northewestern island

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Defense mobilized to northewestern island

The South Korean Army recently deployed its Cheongung medium-range surface-to air missile (M-SAM) system to one of the country’s northwestern islands as a part of regional defense measures against Pyongyang, a senior government official revealed.

The source told the JoongAng Ilbo on Wednesday, “Our northwestern islands are near North Korea, and there are many North Korean air force bases nearby, but we did not have appropriate defense measures.”

He added that in order to keep North Korean fighters in check, the South Korean Army has established a new missile unit and deployed the Cheongung to protect the surrounding islands.

This region includes Baengnyeong and Yeonpyeong Islands in the Yellow Sea, vulnerable due to their proximity to the North.

Cheongung was developed by the Air Force with the intent of intercepting fighter jets.

It is equipped with a multi-purpose radar, a command and control vehicle and launch pad, similar to the U.S. Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (Thaad) battery.

The indigenous Cheongung missile, completed in 2011, was developed by the Agency for Defense Development and the domestic defense firm LIG Nex1.

Previously, the Korean Air Force’s surface-to-air missiles required the launch pad to be mobilized to point in the direction of the target; however, the Cheongung uses a vertical launcher system that enables it to fire missiles in any direction, 360 degrees. This also shortens launch time.

The guided missile flies toward the target, and its seeker feature is activated and enables it to strike an enemy fighter jet.

The South Korean Air Force currently deploys jets that are on patrol or located at bases in major cities in the event North Korean fighters breach its airspace.

Still, it takes between 30 minutes to an hour for South Korean Air Force jets to reach the frontline.

When Pyongyang shelled Yeonpyeong Island on Nov. 23, 2010, which killed two Marines and two civilians, KF-16 jets had to be deployed from central South Korea.

In early 2014, when North Korea’s fighters approached Baengnyeong Island, the South Korean military scrambled F-15K Slam Eagle aircrafts from an air base in Daegu.

“South Korean Air Force aircraft are responding while on patrol, but if this region is penetrated, this can result in a situation that can even endanger the metropolitan area,” a military official said.

“If the surface-to-air missile can build the first layer of defense, and our fighters protect by sky, the defense of not only our northwestern islands but our metropolitan areas will be bolstered.”

The M-SAM and L-SAM (long-range surface-to-air missile) in development and PAC-2 (Patriot Advanced Capability-2) and PAC-3 missiles comprise the Korea Air and Missile Defense (KAMD), which has been conceded as Seoul’s equivalent to the U.S.-led Thaad system.

But if the Thaad system is used to intercepts missiles, Cheongung is a weapon for intercepting supersonic fighters, according to the military.

The deployment came after Seoul last week launched official talks with Washington over the placement of a Thaad battery in South Korea.

BY JEONG YONG-SOO, SARAH KIM [kim.sarah@joongang.co.kr]

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