Surface Forces: South Korea Builds Two Layer Missile Defenses


March 22, 2014: South Korea has ordered nine more American Phalanx Block 1B systems to protect their ships from anti-ship missiles. Each Phalanx system will cost $14 million. Each consists of a six barreled 20mm cannon and radar all programmed to automatically fire at any rapidly approaching object. South Korea is equipping its FFX Batch II frigates and AOE II support ships with these Phalanx system. Deliveries begin in 2016 and end in 2022. European firms were offering comparable gun systems at competitive prices. But the U.S. systems were selected because they had more of a track record, having been used for years by U.S. warships, and those of many others as well. South Korea has been using systems like Phalanx since the 1990s, when South Korea began building its own warships. Until recently South Korea used the British Goalkeeper system but in the last few years has switched to Phalanx.

South Korea has also equipped some warships with SeaRAM. What's interesting about this is that SeaRAM is basically the Phalanx system with the 20mm gun replaced with a box of eleven RAM (RIM-116 "Rolling Air Frame") missiles. The Phalanx was developed in the 1970s, and entered service in 1977. RAM was developed in the 1980s, and didn't enter service until 1993. RAM has a longer range (7.5 kilometers) than the Phalanx (two kilometers) and was originally designed to be aimed using the ship's fire control systems (which can detect incoming missiles more than ten kilometers away). Phalanx has its own radar and fire control system and once turned on will automatically fire at any incoming missiles. This was necessary, as some anti-ship missiles travel at over 500 meters a second. With SeaRAM, you've got a little more time, and can knock down the incoming missile farther from the ship. This is important, because it was feared that a large, very fast anti-ship missile (which the Russians prefer, and sell to foreigners), even when shot up by Phalanx, might still end up having large parts of it slam into the target ship. Since SeaRAM has eleven missiles ready to fire, it can also engage several targets at once, something the Phalanx could not do.

Some navies, like South Korea, will use Phalanx and RAM, to provide a dual layer of defense on some ships. Any missiles that get past RAM, then have to get past Phalanx as well. Phalanx uses 20mm depleted uranium shells, to slice through incoming missiles. Phalanx fires shells at the rate of 75 per second. The Phalanx radar can pick up targets five kilometers away.

The RAM missiles are 127mm in diameter, three meters (9.3 feet) long and weigh 73.6 kg (162 pounds) each. The terminal guidance system is heat seeking. Basically, it uses the rocket motor and warhead from the Sidewinder air-to-air missile, and the guidance system from the Stinger shoulder fired anti-aircraft missile. SeaRAM missiles cost about $450,000 each. SeaRAM is meant to provide protection for combat support ships that normally have no defenses, or at least no combat radars and fire control system.

The FFXs are 3,200 ton ships and are each armed with a 76mm gun, eight anti-ship missiles, six torpedo tubes, plus two RAM launchers and two Phalanx. The ships are highly automated, requiring a crew of only 95. Top speed is 61 kilometers an hour. Range is 7,000 kilometers. Most of the equipment (including electronics) and weapons will be locally built. South Korea plans to build as many as twenty of these ships. The first six are all to be in service by 2015. The first ship in the class, the Ulsan, will cost $107 million. South Korea hopes to export the FFX to many navies who want a quality, low cost, warship.





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