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Korea’s Aging Missile Defense System

Posted July. 07, 2006 03:28,   


After North Korea’s test-firing of missiles, South Koreans are getting worried about their forces’ capability to defend against a missile attack from the North.

Pyongyang launched seven missiles on July 5. Six of them, except Taepodong-2, were either Scuds with a range of 300-500km, or Rodong, with 1,200-1,500km range.

In particular, according to the South Korean military authorities, the Scud, along with the long-range guided projectiles dispatched near the truce line, is the most threatening missile to the South with its range that can reach anywhere in the South. North Korea is believed to have produced or possess more than 600 Scuds.

In addition, the Scud can carry chemical warheads as well as conventional ones, empowering it to destroy South’s major strategic camps or densely populated areas.

So experts view that Pyongyang used mainly Scuds and Rodongs in the test to threaten South Korea with mid-and-long range missiles that can reach the South.

The South Korean military forces estimate that if North Korea fired a missile from its Shingye Base 120km away from Seoul, it could reach Seoul in three and a half minutes, Suwon in four minutes and 20 seconds, Wonju in four minutes and 50 seconds and Gangneung in four minutes and 53 seconds.

The forces of the South, however, are not capable of protecting against the threat of North Korean missiles yet.

The South Korean army has Nike surface-to-air missiles. But they were first produced 40 years ago. One of them was fired by accident in December, 1998 as its firing system did not work properly. In 1999, another missile exploded in the air after being test-launched in the Daecheon Firing Range in South Chungcheong Province. Also in November of last year, a missile’s propulsion system exploded in a tunnel when transferred to another area, narrowly escaping a terrible accident.

The Ministry of National Defense currently plans to purchase secondhand German-made Patriot (PAC-2) missiles by spending 1.1 trillion won next year.

This plan, however, has not been sought actively due to the low budget for the last several years. Also some experts say the missile is not good enough to intercept the North’s ballistic missiles.

The inside report of the South Korean Air Force evaluated that the used PAC-2 falls short of the Scud missile. According to the report release by the U.S. Government Accountability Office, the PAC-2’s accuracy rate is only 55%.

An official of the force said, “The U.S. Army stationed in South Korea replaced the PAC-2 with the new Patriot (PAC-3) to protect against North Korea’s ballistic missile. Pyongyang’s test-firing seems to accelerate South Korea’s steps to take measures to defend against the North’s missiles.

Sang-Ho Yun ysh1005@donga.com