Seoul, South Korea – South Korea is developing a new rocket defense system against artillery and short-range modeled according to the Israeli Iron Dome, in a new upgrade of its military equipment on a peninsula that is technically still at war.
The South Korean government said last month that it plans to spend about $ 2.5 billion on research and development and deploy the new system by 2035.
The 1950-53 Korean War ended with an armistice, not a peace treaty, and since then the North and South have built troops and armaments along the demilitarized zone (DMZ) that separates the two countries. North Korea has also developed nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles in recent years, although the planned South Korean defense system will not be able to defend itself against these weapons, it will be able to target short-range artillery and rockets.
North Korea has approximately 10,000 pieces of artillery, including rocket launchers, excavated north of the ZMD, less than 100 kilometers (62 miles) from the greater Seoul area and its 25 million residents, half of the population of South Korea.
The new South Korean system will aim to defend the South Korean capital, its basic facilities, as well as the key military and security infrastructure from a potential North Korean bombing, using interceptor missiles.
But South Korea’s artillery interceptor system will have to be significantly more capable than the Israeli system.
“The Iron Dome responds sporadically to rockets fired by militant groups such as Hamas and irregular forces,” said Colonel Suh Yong-won, a spokesman for the Defense Acquisition Program Administration (DAPA) in June. “Some parts of the system will present similarities, but what we are going to build is designed to intercept North Korean long-range artillery pieces, which require a higher level of technology given the current security situation.”
That is why, he said, the South Korean system is expected to cost much more than the Israeli system.
Military experts also noted that Israel needed to fire far fewer projectiles than South Korea would probably have to do. Hamas launched about 4,300 rockets over ten days into the most recent Gaza conflict. But using a more advanced target, large cannon and rocket launchers, North Korea can initially fire about 16,000 rounds per hour, according to a recent report by the Hankyoreh newspaper.
“It’s an incredibly difficult undertaking,” said Ankit Panda, Stanton’s senior member of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace’s Nuclear Policy Program.
Still, experts seem confident that South Korea will be able to develop an effective missile defense against North Korean artillery and rocket. The question is price. For many states, national security and specifically military budgets challenge conventional cost-benefit analysis.
“There is no option for South Korea, it cannot be avoided,” said Jo Dong Joon, director of the Center for North Korean Studies at Seoul National University. “South Korea is concerned that North Korea may fire its long-range artillery without much fear of reprisals.”
The impetus for the development of the system came in 2010, when North Korea shelled the border island of Yeonpyeong and killed four people.
According to the Hankyoreh newspaper, after the Yeonpyeong incident, the South Korean authorities considered the possibility of introducing an Iron Dome system, but ultimately considered it inappropriate. His focus at the time was to destroy the source of the incoming fire.
That’s why South Korea last year deployed new Korean tactical surface-to-surface missiles, KTSSM, the so-called “artillery killers” with a range of 100 km (62 miles) and designed specifically to destroy North’s artillery. , said Jo, who also specializes in nuclear strategy. But South Korea’s KTSSM will take time to attack and destroy the source of the fire (artillery pieces and rocket launchers) that could give Pyongyang enough time to attack and destroy Seoul’s key facilities.
South Korea’s new “Iron Dome” -style system will defend itself against this threat, as Patriot and Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) missile defense is already deployed to defend itself from North Korea’s ballistic missiles.
Deteriorate nuclear escalation
In defending themselves against Northern artillery and rockets along the DMZ, some experts believe that limited provocations will be deterred and they will be less likely to become a larger conflict involving the North’s nuclear weapons.
“North Korea’s scale of escalation now comes a long way to nuclear weapons,” Jo explained, adding that South Korea must be able to respond specifically to the artillery threat or impose the greatest risk of provoking. climbing.
The development of nuclear weapons in North Korea creates several strategic challenges beyond the weapons themselves. The threat of its use encourages Pyongyang and puts Seoul at a disadvantage despite its vastly superior conventional forces and alliance with the United States.
“Possession of nuclear weapons in North Korea is the cause of the breakdown of the strategic balance … missile defense adjusts this imbalance a bit,” said Go Myung-hyun, a researcher at the Asan Institute for Studies Politicians.
But missile and anti-artillery defense is seen as a relatively expensive undertaking, involving years of research and development, for a debatable benefit. Spending on defensive systems can be offset by deploying more offensive missiles to outperform the defensive system and cost less.
“It will always be cheaper for any attacker, whether in North Korea or Hamas, to acquire more offensive missiles than defenders who continue to seek defensive interceptors,” Carnegie’s Panda said. “The resources that South Korea will spend … have opportunity costs elsewhere, in what South Korea could spend on offensive weapons.”
At the same time, South Korea’s growing military-industrial complex could benefit enormously from the project beyond the initial research, development and deployment for South Korea.
“A system like this could be attractive as a potential export,” Panda said.
Still, some have vehemently opposed the program, arguing that it is South Korea’s growing military spending (now approaching $ 50 billion a year) that drives an inter-Korean arms race.
“Long-range artillery is a threat, but South Korea’s military and weapons deployments are also a threat to North Korea,” said Park Jung-eun, secretary general of People’s Solidarity for Democracy. Participatory, a major South Korean NGO.
South Korea has been upgrading its military hardware in several areas, including the development and deployment of advanced naval destroyers, its own artillery systems, rockets and missiles, and the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter aircraft, which are all generations ahead of the north Kora’s weapon systems. This imbalance in conventional forces leads Pyongyang towards alternative strategies.
“This arms increase prevents the North from making other decisions … to focus on asymmetric weapons such as nuclear weapons and weapons of mass destruction,” Park said.
South Korea’s democratic leadership spends even more than conservatives, said Park, who has worked in peace activism for 15 years. Democrats want to avoid criticism of being soft and appease a military man less enthusiastic about peace initiatives.
There is also a business motivation behind the approval of such an expensive project.
“This could be a way to feed the conglomerate’s defense companies, whether Samsung or Hanwha, for an unrealistic military defense,” Park said.
One criticism of the Iron Dome is that it prevents the Israeli government from pursuing a diplomatic resolution of the old roots of the problem.
Park does the same assessment for South Korea.
“Instead of the Iron Dome, I think we need to focus more on dialogue.”