Artillery: South Korea Goes Ballistic

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April 23, 2012: In response to the April 13th North Korean attempt to launch a satellite using a long-range ballistic missile, South Korea released a video showing launches of an unidentified South Korean cruise missile and a ballistic missile. The cruise missile was apparently the Hyunmoo 3, the ballistic missile remains unidentified. This was meant to show North Korea that the south had weapons that could reach anywhere in the north. The video was also meant to reassure South Korean voters, who are increasingly fed up with northern belligerence.

South Korea is usually secretive about its battlefield missiles. Three years ago South Korean media reported that a new cruise missile, with a range of 1,000 kilometers, had secretly entered production in 2008. The missile, called Hyunmoo 3, has since been superseded by the Hyunmoo 3C missile which has a range of 1,500 kilometers and is being deployed along the North Korean border, aimed at ballistic missiles, nuclear weapons, and other strategic targets to the north.

For the last 30 years the United States has been discouraging South Korea from developing long range ballistic and cruise missiles. This was done to try and halt an arms race with North Korea but the north never took the hint. Meanwhile, the U.S. assured the south that America would show up for the fight if the north attacked.

Despite the U.S. refusal to help South Korea developed a 180 kilometer range ballistic missile (Hyunmoo 1) and a 300 kilometer one (Hyunmoo 2) in the 1980s. Both are about 13 meters (40 feet) long and weigh 4-5 tons. South Korea belongs to the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) and thus agrees not to build ballistic missiles with a range of more than 300 kilometers. Hyunmoo 1 and 2 used a design based on that of the U.S. Nike-Hercules anti-aircraft missile, which South Korea used for many years.

Cruise missiles are simpler technology, and apparently the Hyunmoo 3 is made entirely with South Korean developed components. Like the Tomahawk, Hyunmoo 3 appears to be about 6 meters (19 feet) long, weighs 1.5 tons, has a half ton warhead, and is launched from hidden (in the hills facing North Korea), and probably fortified, containers. North Korea has about 600 ballistic missiles aimed at South Korea.

The longer range of the Hyunmoo 3C enables it to hit any target in North Korea and is apparently intended to knock out transportation and supply targets deep inside North Korea. With a range of 1,500 kilometers the missile could also hit targets in China and Russia.

Last year South Korea announced that it had moved some of its ATACMS (Army Tactical Missile Systems) guided missiles close to the North Korean border. ATACMS is a 610mm rocket that fits in the same size container that normally holds six 227mm MLRS rockets. The ATACMS version in South Korean service has a range of 165 kilometers. That makes it capable of reaching many targets in North Korea but not the capital (Pyongyang, which is 220 kilometers north of the DMZ). There is a version of ATACMS with a range of 300 kilometers but South Korea does not have any. ATACMS is fired from the American MLRS rocket launcher. South Korea only has 220 ATACMS missiles. All of them have cluster bomb warheads. Half of them are unguided and have a range of 128 kilometers. The other half have smaller warheads, GPS guidance, and a range of 165 kilometers. This is apparently the version moved close to the border, in order to make the North Koreans nervous. South Korea originally bought ATACMS in 1998 to have a weapon that could go after distant North Korean artillery and large concentrations of tanks.

Despite American opposition South Korea began developing, but not mass-producing, ballistic missiles in the 1970s. South Korea certainly has the technical expertise and manufacturing capability to produce a more modern ballistic missile with a range of 300 kilometers, as was shown in the recent video. South Korea has signed an international treaty agreeing to not build ballistic missiles with a range greater than 300 kilometers, but public opinion in the south is calling for that limit to be broken, in order to make all of North Korea vulnerable to ballistic missile attack from the south.

 


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