South Korea will speed up building its own missile defense aimed at low-flying targets, while seeking ways to develop "multi-layered" deterrence against North Korea.
Seoul has been gradually building an independent, low-tier missile shield called the Korea Air and Missile Defense (KAMD), with mid-term plans to acquire the latest Patriot missiles and long-range early warning radars.
In addition to the terminal phase system, the defense ministry said it is considering multi-layered defense to effectively strike ballistic missiles coming from different altitudes. "Our military is establishing a low-tier terminal-phase KAMD considering the range of North Korea's incoming ballistic missiles. It was reflected in the military acquisition plan and will be completed faster than expected," ministry spokesman Kim Min-seok said in a briefing. "Our military is also looking into various measures to bolster the terminal phase, low-altitude defense to effectively counter North Korea's nuclear and missile threat."
Kim didn't specify weapons systems, but he excluded the Standard Missile-3, which intercepts missiles at an altitude over 400-500 kilometers, from the shopping list. Although there have been calls to adopt the long-range missile defense to establish a multi-layered shield against the North, Seoul's defense ministry has remained cautious over the American missile program as it could spur a regional arms race involving China and further contribute to mounting costs in the national missile program. Kim's remark raised speculation that Seoul is seeking to adopt systems like the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) by Lockheed Martin as a possible next step. THAAD is designed to shoot down short, medium and intermediate ballistic missiles in their terminal phase, using a hit-to-kill method.
Seoul has been pushing to bolster its defense against the communist rival after it successfully fired off a long-range rocket last December. Pyongyang claims the launch was aimed at putting a satellite into orbit, but Seoul and Washington consider it as a covert ballistic-missile technology test. Military experts say operating missile defense at different altitudes could provide enhanced protection against North Korea's mid- and long-range ballistic missiles.