In January South Korea announced its largest ever weapons sale; $3.5 billion for an unspecified number of KM-SAM missile batteries and missiles for the UAE (United Arab Emirates). These will probably be the Block 2 version of the system, which can intercept ballistic missiles within 40 kilometers of the launcher. The UAE sale may also include some L-SAM equipment as well.
The UAE was the first export customer because the UAE and South Korea have long been trading partners. The UAE sells a lot of its oil to South Korea and imports a lot of manufactured items. The UAE noted that South Korea has become one of the top ten weapons exporters in the world. The UAE was always impressed by the quality of South Korean manufactured goods and was attracted to the new KM-SAM Iron Hawk air defense system South Korea had developed,
South Korea began production of its new Block 1 KM-SAM (Iron Hawk) surface-to-air missile systems in 2017. The first batteries deployed in 2018 and deliveries to the South Korean military were completed in 2020. Block 1 replaced the 24 batteries of 1960s era American Hawk missile systems South Korea had been using.
The Block 2 KM-SAM became available in 2021. Block 1 equipment can be upgraded and that’s apparently what South Korea is doing with all or most of its Block 1 equipment.
The growing tensions with North Korea and China have caused KM-SAM development to proceed more aggressively. China was not pleased because KM-SAM is the first step in a South Korean effort to develop an anti-missile capability similar to what the American Patriot system has. That was to be KM-SAM Block 2. Development of this upgrade began in 2012 and took about eight years to complete. The Block 1 version began development in 2001.
KM-SAM (or just M-SAM) development began with the help of a Russian firm and Russian missile tech. KM-SAM is mobile and each battery has six launcher vehicles each carrying an eight-cell storage-launcher box. Each missile weighs 400 kg (880 pounds) with a range of 40 kilometers and a max altitude of 15 kilometers (49,000 feet). Block 2 missiles can intercept at up to 20 kilometers (66,000 feet).
A larger L-SAM missile will have a range of 150 kilometers and max altitude of 61 kilometers (200,000 feet). This means going after longer range and faster moving (on reentry) ballistic missiles. L-SAM will carry two types of missiles, one for aircraft and one for ballistic missiles. L-SAM batteries will be introduced in 2024.
KM-SAM batteries a 3-D phased array radar and fire control system (which can track six targets simultaneously). These are much improved over the American Hawk systems South Korea has been using since the 1960s. South Korea developed KM-SAM and L-SAM with the help of Russian missile tech provided to pay off old debts. This included the tech for the high-speed interceptor missiles South Korea needed. Russia eventually used the same tech for their S-350 and S-400 SAMs.
Since the 1960s over 40,000 Hawk missiles have been produced and bought by the nearly 30 countries that used (or still use) Hawk. While Hawk has been upgraded since it entered service in 1959, some countries have gone beyond that. Back in 2011, South Korea revealed that it was working on what later became the Iron Hawk II anti-aircraft missile system, and some early models were built to replace three existing U.S. Hawk missile battalions. This was what became KM-SAM and introduced the use of a launcher truck with missiles in sealed storage/firing containers. The original Hawk did not use the container system. The KM1 search radar (with a max range of 100 kilometers) guides missiles part of the way before the missiles' own guidance system takes over for the final approach. Because the main military threat, North Korea, is right next to South Korea, Hawk range is not a big issue. For the sake of export sales the L-SAM missile was quickly developed.