South Korea Develops New Long-range Cruise Missile

Jul 19, 2010

By Oliver Bloom

 

Over the past weekend, AFP reported that the South Korean state-run Agency for Defense Development
 
has begun manufacturing the ground-to-ground Hyunmu-3C with a range of up to 1,500 kilometres (937 miles), Yonhap news agency quoted an unidentified defence official as saying.
 
The Hyunmu-3C missile would also be able to reach parts of China, Japan and Russia. The previous version of the Hyunmu had a range of only 1,000 km.
 
According to the Korea Herald,
 
The missile with a 450-kilogram warhead measures 6 meters in length and 53-60 centimeters in diameter and weighs 1.5 tons. It can hit targets in all nuclear facilities and major missile bases in the communist state with high precision, experts said.
 
"With the range of 1,500 kilometers, the missile can practically attack all areas in the North. The missile, guided with the help of the global positioning system, can accurately hit the target with a margin of error of less than 2 meters,” said Shin In-kyun, a military expert who heads a civic group, called Korea Defence Network.
 
Such a development would be an impressive sign for South Korea’s domestic missile program, which the United States has long discouraged and resisted assisting. As the Arms Control Association explained back in 1999,
 
In a 1979 memorandum of understanding with the United States, which was reiterated in 1990, South Korea voluntarily pledged not to develop ballistic missiles with ranges exceeding 180 kilometers. Since late 1995, however, Seoul has sought to abrogate that limit.
 
As a member of the Missile Technology Control Regime, South Korea has agreed not to develop ballistic missiles with a range of more than 300 kilometers. However, the control regime does not restrict the development of long-range cruise missiles as long as their payloads are less than 500 kilograms, which reports indicate is the case with the Hyunmu-3C. As Strategy Page explains,
 
The South Koreans realized that cruise missiles would be cheaper, and just as effective, as ballistic missiles. South Korea had the technology to build good cruise missiles, and a lot of them.
 
[…]
 
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.
 
Successful indigenous development of a long-range cruise missile would put South Korea in the company of only the United States, Russia and Israel, as countries who have developed cruise missiles with ranges of more than 1,500 kilometers. 
 
The new cruise missile would not only bring all North Korean military and missile sites within striking distance, but would also do so with an extremely precise weapon. The Korea Herald suggested that
 
experts say Hyunmu 3-C is comparable with the U.S.-made Tomahawk missile in its precision strike capability.
 
The missile announcement comes in the wake of a deterioration of ROK-DPRK relations since the sinking of the South Korean Cheonan ship this spring, a sinking widely attributed to North Korea. North Korea has an estimated 1,000 missiles, most aimed at South Korea and Japan. Six hundred of the North Korean missiles are Scud B and C ballistic missiles with ranges of 300-500 kilometers, while another 200 are 1,300-kilometer Rodong missiles capable of hitting all of South Korea and parts of Japan. North Korea also possesses a limited number of Taepodong type missiles with ranges of more than 2,000 kilometers. 
 
The South Korean cruise missile development certainly won’t fundamentally alter the military balance on the Korean Peninsula, nor will it give the South Koreans an incentive to launch a preventive strike (especially given the number of North Korean missiles and chemical weapons aimed at the Seoul), but the new missile certainly may give South Korea another tool in its box in handling North Korean contingencies. If the situation on the peninsula deteriorated to open conflict, South Korea would have an independent means of accurately striking distant North Korean targets without risking aircraft. What’s more, the accurate cruise missiles would give South Korea a means to preempt an imminent North Korean attack, were such a thing to develop. As Shin In-kyun explained to the Korea Herald,
 
[South Korea has] now obtained the means to mount an attack when signs (of possible attacks from the North) are detected. The missile is not just for a war. It is meaningful in that we have secured deterrence capabilities.
 
The hope is that North Korea, knowing of South Korea’s ability to possibly preempt North Korean missile launches, will in turn be deterred from launching to begin with. 
 
Assuming the Korean Peninsula does not degenerate into open warfare, the United States should take this news well. While certainly all parties involved would prefer a peaceful outcome, North Korean intransience and recent provocations have made negotiations at this moment quite difficult. While international efforts at resuming negotiations and eliminating North Korea’s nuclear arsenal should remain the United States and South Korea’s primary focus, the United States should still embrace the South Korean desire to be more able to deter North Korea without relying entirely on U.S. assistance. At a time when the United States is bogged down in two wars elsewhere and is already contemplating cuts to its military budget, any move by South Korea to shoulder more of the burden on the peninsula should be welcomed and encouraged.