Air Defense: South Korea Hustles Hawk Replacement


April 27, 2017: In early 2017 South Korea announced it was starting production of its new KM-SAM (Iron Hawk) surface-to-air missile systems by the end of the year. The first batteries would deploy in 2018. The growing tensions with North Korea and China have caused development to proceed more aggressively. China will not be 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.

KM-SAM (or just M-SAM) development began in 2001 with the help of a Russian firm. 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) and has a range of 40 kilometers. Another vehicle carries the 3-D phased array radar and fire control system (which can track six targets simultaneously). The radar and fire control are much improved over the American Hawk systems South Korea has been using since the 1960s. KM-SAM and American Patriot systems will soon replace the 24 Hawk batteries South Korea has been using for decades. South Korea will continue development of KM-SAM to include a version with anti-missile capabilities similar to the Patriot PAC-3 and eventually surpass even that with a version called L-SAM that is to have an effective range of 150 kilometers and max altitude of 30,000 meters.

The current KM-SAM is a big improvement over Hawk. Each Hawk battery has six towed launchers each carrying three of the 590 kg (1,290 pound) Hawk missiles. In addition there a radar, control center and maintenance vehicles. Since the 1960s over 40,000 Hawk missiles were 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 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 M-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. Iron Hawk missiles have a max range of 40 kilometers and a max altitude of 15,000 meters (46,500 feet). The 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.




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