South Korea Unveils Plan to Improve Defenses

 - August 12, 2020, 3:54 AM
More LiGNex 1 KM-SAM missile systems are to be bought to bolster South Korea’s air defenses. The system is based on Almaz-Antey technology with considerable Korean localization. (Photo: Chen Chuanren)

The Republic of Korea has unveiled an ambitious five-year roadmap to strengthen its defenses. In a document released on August 10, Seoul signaled its intention to increase its imagery, signal and electronic intelligence-gathering capabilities to cover the entire peninsula to achieve near-real time situation awareness. This will be achieved by using conventional spy satellites, Global Hawks and a new domestically-built medium-altitude long-endurance (MALE) UAV to be introduced by 2025.

The country's defense ministry says it will be developing a “Korean-style Iron Dome” to protect its cities, and will be doubling its missile defense capabilities with extended-range ballistic missile warning radar and Aegis-equipped warships. Command and control mission systems are also in the development process to enable them to have eight times the target-processing capabilities.

Under the plan, numbers of Patriot PAC-3 missiles and the locally developed KM-SAM medium-altitude surface-to air-missiles will be increased, so that the defenses can intercept three times the number of targets than currently possible. The defense ministry said it wants to expand the range of threats from Scud-type missiles to smaller munitions such as 240mm or 300mm multiple-launch rockets.

In December 2019, South Korea began the development of the L-SAM by Hanwha and LIGNex1. Similar to the U.S. Theater High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD), the L-SAM is designed to intercept missiles at an altitude of 40-60 km in the terminal phase. Planned for service entry in 2024, L-SAM will also arm the future FFX Batch III frigates to provide them with anti-ballistic missile capabilities.

The document confirms that South Korea will procure a 30,000-tonne light carrier from 2021 to be equipped with STOVL aircraft. Also on the list is the development of UAV capabilities for reconnaissance and attack missions, including a stealthy jet-powered UAV listed as a “major new project”. The document also depicts the UVision Hero series and Israel Aerospace Industries' Harop loitering munitions as examples of attack UAVs, while stating that four domestic reconnaissance UAV contenders are being evaluated. Korean Air’s Aerospace Division unveiled its MALE UAV in 2019 with LIGNex1 SAR and Hanwha EO/IR sensors, aimed for serial production in 2021.

In the meantime, manufacturing of the prototype of the KF-X multirole fighter is progressing towards a roll-out slated for April 2021, and other elements of the program are beginning to crystallize. On August 7 Hanwha Systems and the Agency for Defense Development unveiled the first example of the indigenously developed AESA radar destined for the KF-X.

KF-X AESA radar
Hanwha Systems has developed the AESA radar for KF-X with assistance from a number of international companies. The radar could be scaled to equip other aircraft types as well. (Photo: Defense Acquisition Program Administration)