BMD Focus: South Korea's leisurely BMD

By MARTIN SIEFF, UPI Senior News Analyst  |  Dec. 20, 2007 at 12:18 PM
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WASHINGTON, Dec. 20 (UPI) -- In contrast to Japan, South Korea still has no ballistic missile defense system of its own operational. However, the success of the Japanese test is likely to give long-term plans to develop BMD in South Korea a boost, the Chosun Ilbo newspaper said Wednesday.

The Seoul daily noted that South Korea was in far greater danger of ballistic missile bombardment from North Korea than Japan was: Seoul itself, with its 14 million people, lies within range of North Korea's estimated 13,000 rockets and artillery tubes on the other side of the Demilitarized Zone -- the largest concentration of such weapons in the world.

South Korea does play host to a battery of 64 PAC-2 and 3 missiles operated at a U.S. military base in the country. However, under President Kim Dae-jung, who won the Nobel Peace Prize for his "Sunshine Policy" of increasing contacts with and reducing tensions with the North, South Korea took the decision not to join the U.S.-led BMD development and deployment program the way Japan did.

The Chosun Ilbo noted that -- as reported previously in these columns -- the South Korean Defense Ministry was working on its BMD program known as Korea Air and Missile Defense.

However, the anticipated pace of development and deployment of KAMD is very leisurely and displays none of the sense of urgency that former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi successfully injected into the Japanese BMD program.

The paper said KAMD would have a battery of Patriot PAC-3 missiles to be bought from the United States some time after 2015 and a battery of homemade medium-range surface-to-air missiles that are expected to operate with a significantly shorter-range than the PAC-3s.

The South Koreans anticipate that when their BMD system is operational, missiles fired by the North would be picked up by Spy-1D radar systems deployed on Aegis destroyers of the King Sejong class and by the South's BMEWS ballistic missile early-warning radar system. However, the King Sejong ships will not be equipped with SM-3 interceptors like their U.S. and Japanese navy counterparts.

The Chosun Ilbo said that Seoul did not expect to be in a position to purchase any SM-3s from either the United States or Japan. South Korea has not poured the same huge investment into the development of interceptors like the SM-3 that Washington and Tokyo have.

"Given the small size of the Korean Peninsula, we'll purchase shorter-range missiles, if the U.S. ever develops them, and deploy them on the Aegis vessels," one South Korean defense official told the newspaper.

However, the Chosun Ilbo said that if the KAMD system is built and deployed, it will have strong ties to, and even be dependent on, the much larger and more sophisticated U.S. BMD system.

The paper noted that even if the KAMD is built to its full potential, it will still be dependent on U.S. missile early-warning systems, including early-warning satellites that can immediately monitor and report any North Korean ballistic missile firing.

Nor will South Korea be able to develop its own independent battle management command, or control, communication, computer and intelligence -- BM/C4I -- system, the paper noted.

It is understandable that South Korea, with a far smaller -- though still impressive -- industrial economy than the United States and Japan, should choose for its own strategic reasons not to follow the U.S. and Japanese models on ballistic missile defense development. As a land nation as opposed to an island one like Japan, and with a heavily armed, unpredictable neighbor like North Korea on its northern border, South Korea is forced to invest far greater resources in its land forces than Japan has to.

Nevertheless, it is puzzling that even when South Korean policymakers recognize where they do need to invest in ballistic missile defense, they should choose to do so in such a leisurely and long-term way.

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