South Korean Offensive Missile Capabilities

The ROK tested its indigenous ballistic missile system, Baekgom (백곰) system in 1978 and in 1979 the ROK and US made a bilateral agreement limiting the range and payload of South Korean ballistic missiles to 180km and 500kg, respectively. The Baekgom system was replaced with the improved Hyunmu (현무) system in 1982, which completed its first test launch in 1985.

In 1998 following North Korea’s Taepodong-1 intermediate-range ballistic missile test launch, ROK developed the surface-to-air missile codenamed “M-SAM”. The KM-SAM system (as it would be later named) emulates the Russian missile S-300, and the technological cooperation between Russia and South Korea worried American policymakers who felt that the US Patriot system was superior and provided better interoperability with the USFK.

The ROK joined the Missile Technology Control Regime in 2001, which limits missile payload to 500kg and range to 300km, possibly superseding the agreement with the Americans and increasing South Korea’s allowed missile range. In 2002 ROK announced the procurement of 110 ATACMS Block 1A missiles from Lockheed Martin which have a range of 300km, deployed in 2004.

Since 2011 ROK has sought to increase missile range up to 1000km, citing the 1800km range of North Korea’s Rodong-1. In October 2012 the US and ROK agreed that South Korea’s missile range could be up to 800km with a 500kg payload; it was also agreed that unmanned ariel vehicle (UAV) payload could be increased from 500kg to 2500kg.

South Korea is clearly looking to divorce itself from the American missile and missile defense systems, pursuing greater independence in the region.