Korea to start making M-SAMs next year

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Korea to start making M-SAMs next year

The South Korean government will mass produce medium-range surface-to-air missiles (M-SAM) next year to boost defenses against North Korea and possibly for exports, according to an insider at the Ministry of National Defense.

The Defense Acquisition Program Administration, a government agency that coordinates defense procurement through consultations with the Defense Ministry, confirmed a plan to mass produce M-SAMs in a meeting with Minister of National Defense Song Young-moo on Tuesday.

“We have confirmed the production schedule of M-SAM at the meeting,” said an insider to the ministry.

According to the ministry insider, the military plans to deploy six to eight M-SAM units next year. Each unit contains one launch control system, one multifunction radar and three launchers. One launcher can carry up to eight M-SAMs, which means one unit can hold up to 24 M-SAMs.

If eight units are deployed, they could hold up to 192 M-SAMs. That number would actually exceed 200 if backup missiles are counted.

The M-SAM system is divided into two types: M-SAM block 1 system and M-SAM block 2 system. The block 1 system is used for intercepting fighter jets in the air and the block 2 system is used for intercepting ballistic missiles in the air.

The M-SAM block 1 system works by detonating in the air near a target, while the M-SAM block 2 system works by directly hitting its target.

“The block 2 system directly hits missiles that may be carrying nuclear or biochemical weapons while they are in the air,” said Kwon Yong-soo, a missiles expert and former professor at Korea National Defense University.

The M-SAM block 2 system is capable of intercepting incoming missiles at altitudes of 20 to 40 kilometers (12 to 25 miles).

The M-SAM system is a core part of the Korea Air Missile Defense (KAMD), one of three key projects being pursued by the Korean military to defend against North Korean missile threats. The military is also investing in a “Kill Chain” pre-emptive system to deter the North before its missile attacks.

The so-called Korea Massive Punishment and Retaliation operation is designed to attack the North Korean capital of Pyongyang and its ruling regime through intense bombing.

KAMD is a terminal-phase, lower-tier missile defense system. It will use U.S.-built Patriot missiles and Korean-made M-SAM for lower-altitude interception. Korea is also developing long-range surface-to-air missiles (L-SAM) for medium and high altitude interception.

The Korean government began developing the M-SAM system in 1995 under the Kim Young-sam administration, with technological assistance from Russia.

The M-SAM block 1 system has been deployed by the military since last year. In a test on Nov. 2, the block 1 system hit a target moving at some 5,500 kilometers per hour (around 3,420 miles per hour) at some 40 kilometer distance. The block 2 system was developed this year.

The system may be tested in the desert in the United Arab Emirates, according to some government sources of the JoongAng Ilbo, an affiliate of the Korea JoongAng Daily.

There are some hopes in military circles that the Korean-made M-SAM system may have a competitive edge in the international market.

“The M-SAM system is more capable than the [U.S.-made] Patriot Advanced Capability-3 [PAC-3] surface-to-air interceptors,” said a military insider.

PAC-3 missiles cost around 10 billion won ($9.3 million) each, while the missiles for the M-SAM block 2 system cost 5 billion won, according to some Defense Ministry insiders.

BY LEE CHUL-JAE, ESTHER CHUNG [chung.juhee@joongang.co.kr]
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