Monday, August 17, 2009

South Korea Deploying 1,000-Kilometer Cruise Missiles

South Korea began deploying 1,000-kilometer-range surface-to-surface cruise missiles in the field earlier this year, according to missile developers and military sources Monday.

The missile, a modified variant of the Hyunmoo missile, is capable of reaching as far as Beijing and Tokyo, as well as hitting key targets in the entire North Korean territory, they said.

It is the first time that the development and deployment of the long-range cruise missile, dubbed Hyunmoo-III, have been confirmed. Previously, the government neither confirmed nor denied the cruise missile development in an apparent move not to provoke tensions with China and Japan, as well as North Korea.

The Hyunmoo is a ballistic missile, developed by the state-funded Agency for Defense Development (ADD) and LIG Nex1, a leading missile developer in South Korea, with a range of 180 to 300 kilometers.

"Production of the Hyunmoo-III missile began earlier this year at LIG Nex1 facilities in Gumi, North Gyeongsang Province, and the missiles have been delivered to an Army unit," a source told The Korea Times on condition of anonymity.

The Hyunmoo-III can hit targets with a margin of error of plus or minus five meters aided by a Terrain Contour Matching (TERCOM) system, according to the source.

Hyunmoo-II ballistic missiles, with a range of 300 kilometers, have been operational since last year, the source revealed, adding the ADD and LIG Nex1 began developing the 1,500-kilometer-range Hyunmoo-IIIA cruise missile recently.

In an effort to help thwart North Korea's increasing asymmetrical capability of missile and nuclear weapons, the Seoul government has pushed for developing long-range cruise missiles since 2006, when the North test-fired the Taepodong-2 intercontinental ballistic missile and subsequently conducted its first nuclear test.

Seoul's development of a long-range cruise missile doesn't violate guidelines restricting the country's missile technology.

South Korea restricted its missile range to 300 kilometers in a 2001 agreement with the United States, which declared at the same time it would support South Korea's membership in the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR).

The MTCR is an informal and voluntary regime of more than 30 countries that seeks to limit missile proliferation by restricting exports of missiles that have a range of 300 kilometers or more, and capable of delivering a 500-kilogram payload.

The regime, however, only applies to high-velocity, free flight ballistic missiles, excluding the slower, surface-skimming cruise weapons.

The cruise missile, dubbed a "flying bomb," is a guided missile that uses a lifting wing and most often a jet propulsion system to allow sustained flight. The self-navigating cruise missile travels at supersonic or high subsonic speeds and flies in a non-ballistic very low altitude trajectory to avoid radar detection.

Only a few nations, such as the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Russia, China and Israel, possess advanced long-range cruise missiles.

Since Pyongyang test-fired an ICBM last April and subsequently conducted a second nuclear test a month later, South Korean authorities have raised the need of revising the missile range guidelines.

The Hyunmoo ballistic missiles are capable of striking Pyongyang and Shinuiju in North Korea in the case of war, as well as short- and medium-range missile sites in Shinsang-ri, South Hamgyeong Province and Gitaeryeong, Gangwon Province.

But the missiles can't hit North Korean long-range missile sites, including the Musudan-ri site in North Hamgyeong Province, located more than 300 kilometers from Seoul.

Against that backdrop, many defense analysts here say South Korea should be allowed to develop ballistic missiles with ranges of 550 to 700 kilometers to cover the entire North.

North Korea has deployed more than 600 Scud missiles with a range of 320-500 kilometers and 200 Rodong missiles with a range of 1,300 kilometers near the Demilitarized Zone dividing the two Koreas.

The reclusive state is also believed to be pushing ahead with the development of a 6,700-kilometer-range intercontinental ballistic missile capable of hitting the western part of the United States.

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