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May 22, 2012

S. Korea to Boost Missiles Arsenal

by Steve Herman

SEOUL - Amid a perceived increased threat from North Korea, the military of South Korea intends to put a significantly larger number of missiles into its arsenal in the years ahead.

South Korea officials confirm plans are underway to increase spending on missile development.

Defense Ministry spokesman Kim Min-seok says this is part of an ongoing process to strengthen the country's military.

Enhanced response capability

Kim says it is necessary for South Korea to establish a response capability with more missiles to respond to North Korea's asymmetric threats, which include missiles.

South Korean officials will not confirm specific figures in terms of spending and the number of missiles.

Local media reports Tuesday say the Defense Ministry is requesting more than $2 billion over the next five years for missile development.

The request reportedly was submitted to President Lee Myung-bak at a meeting on fiscal policy on April 28. That was just days after South Korea's military revealed it had a new cruise missile capable of hitting any target in North Korea.

Analysts say South Korea's military wants to build hundreds of Hyunmu-2 ballistic missiles, with a 300 kilometer range, and Hyunmu-3 series of cruise missiles with a range of between 500 and 1,500 kilometers.

The arsenal would be capable, in the early stages of a war, of neutralizing nuclear weapons and long-range missiles in North Korea, along with Pyongyang's command facilities, air force bases and suspected biochemical weapons facilities.

Increased threats

Intelligence and defense analysts say the impoverished North has clandestine weapons programs, illegal under international sanctions, ultimately tasked with placing a nuclear weapon atop a ballistic missile.

Despite several missile launches and underground nuclear tests over the past six years, most analysts contend North Korea is still a long way from achieving that goal.

North Korea on Tuesday warned its nuclear program will continue if the United States continues to ratchet up sanctions and pressure on it.  But the statement, carried by Pyongyang's central news agency, and attributed to an unidentified foreign ministry spokesman, also said the country is open to dialog to resolve the standoff.

A defense analyst for IHS Jane’s publications reports satellite images taken in the past month show heightened excavation activity at North Korea's Punggye-ri nuclear test site.

The activity comes amid fresh warnings to Pyongyang from Seoul, Washington and Tokyo that it should not conduct further provocations, such as an underground nuclear detonation.

Since North Korea's failed rocket launch on April 13 there has been increasing speculation the reclusive country will conduct such a test. Its previous nuclear tests, in 2006 and 2009, followed what North Korea characterized as space launches.

Western nations have alleged the launches are being used by North Korea to improve ballistic missile technology that could eventually be used to attack other countries, including the United States.