South Korea Unveils New Missile

Peter Crail

A week after a failed North Korean long-range rocket launch, South Korea on April 19 announced its deployment of a new cruise missile capable of hitting targets anywhere in North Korea.

“Now, our military has indigenously developed and deployed a cruise missile with the world’s top precision and striking capabilities that is capable of hitting all areas of North Korea promptly,” South Korean Defense Ministry policy planning chief Maj. Gen. Shin Won-sik told reporters the same day.

He said Seoul’s new missile capabilities would be used to retaliate against “another reckless provocation” by Pyongyang. Tensions flared between the two countries in 2010 when North Korea shelled a South Korean island and is believed to have sunk a South Korean naval vessel.

The cruise missile South Korea unveiled, called the Hyunmu-3C, is believed to have a range of 1,500 kilometers carrying a 450-kilogram payload. Such a capability appears to exceed the range limit on which South Korea and the United States had agreed in 2001 when Seoul joined the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR), a grouping of countries aimed at preventing the spread of missiles capable of delivering nonconventional warheads. The MTCR currently has 34 members.

Before joining the MTCR, Seoul already was subject to a 180-kilometer-range cap on its ballistic missiles under a 1979 agreement with Washington, but the two countries agreed to increase the cap to 300 kilometers in 2001 after years of negotiations. The agreement’s range limit on cruise missiles is believed to have been higher, at 500 kilometers.

South Korea is already believed to have deployed a 1,000-kilometer-range Hyunmu-3B cruise missile.

Missiles that can deliver 500 kilograms to distances of at least 300 kilometers, a capability often associated with nuclear delivery systems, are designated Category I systems under the MTCR and are subject to the group’s strictest rules on transferring technology. The payload of a missile affects its range, with heavier warheads decreasing the potential range of the missile.

The MTCR governs the transfer of missiles and missile technology and does not place limits on countries advancing their own missile capabilities. Since 1993, however, the United States has had a policy of requiring that countries joining the group adhere to MTCR Category I missile restrictions for their own missiles as well.

Over the past several years, South Korea has lobbied the United States to extend the agreed missile range limits. South Korean President Lee Myung-bak told reporters March 21 that he believed bilateral discussions on the issue would produce an agreement “soon.”

“The 300-kilometer-range [limit] was set many years ago, predicated on the assumption that any fighting would be around the Demilitarized Zone” separating North and South Korea, Lee said.

Noting that North Korea has extended the range of its missiles and long-range artillery to cover the southernmost South Korean territory, Lee added, “South Korea is in need of expanding its defense posture in case of any contingencies.”

Diplomatic sources said that although there are no formal ongoing talks on extending the missile range limit, South Korea and the United States coordinate closely and are holding informal discussions.