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Korea joins exclusive club with successful L-SAM test

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The Agency for Defense Development revealed that the domestically developed long-range surface-to-air missile (L-SAM) system had passed its third test. [DEFENSE MINISTRY]
The Agency for Defense Development revealed that the domestically developed long-range surface-to-air missile (L-SAM) system had passed its third test. [DEFENSE MINISTRY]

A Korean-developed missile interception system passed its third test out of four earlier this week, according to the national weapons development agency.

According to the Agency for Defense Development (ADD), the successful test is a milestone that makes Korea the third country in the world after the United States and Israel to successfully develop a missile defense system that is effective at higher altitudes.

The agency, which spearheads research and development in domestic defense technology, also showed reporters how the interception test of the long-range surface-to-air missile (L-SAM) system unfolded at its testing site in Taean, South Chungcheong, on Tuesday.
Interceptors launched by the L-SAM system are three-stage projectiles, with the third stage also known as the “Kill Vehicle” designed to actually hit incoming ballistic missiles.

With an interception altitude range between 50 and 60 kilometers (31 and 37 miles), the L-SAM once deployed would compensate for the current limitations of the country’s multi-layer anti-missile plan, known as Korea Air and Missile Defense (KAMD).

During the ADD’s on-screen demonstration of the L-SAM system to reporters, a Kill Vehicle successfully separated from its first and second stages and accurately struck its target missile.

The demonstration was also attended by senior Korean government officials, including Defense Minister Lee Jong-sup, and ADD research staff.

According to Lee, the domestically developed L-SAM “expands [South Korean] missile defense to the upper layer of the terminal phase [of an enemy missile’s flight path], thereby not only improving [South Korea’s] ability to respond to North Korean missile threats but also contributing greatly to strengthening the missile defense capabilities of the South Korea-U.S. alliance.”

The ADD has conducted four L-SAM interception tests since November, with three tests succeeding.

The Defense Ministry said that it plans to complete the development of the domestic L-SAM system by the end of next year and commence mass production in 2025.

The ministry hopes to begin the system’s deployment in the late 2020s.

Although South Korean missile defense already includes several interception systems, including U.S.-developed Patriot Advanced Capability-3 interceptors and Cheongung-II medium-range surface-to-air (M-SAM) systems, these are only effective at altitudes of 40 kilometers or lower.

Further, while United States Forces Korea operates a Terminal High Altitude Area Defense battery in Seongju, the battery’s coverage does not extend over Seoul.

Thaad is capable of shooting down incoming missiles in their descent phase at altitudes between 40 and 150 kilometers.

KAMD is one of three components in South Korea’s so-called “K-3 strategy” designed to deter North Korea’s escalating missile and nuclear weapons threats.

The others are Kill Chain, which relies on surface-to-surface missiles and earth-penetrating weapons to destroy North Korean missile-launching capabilities before missiles can be fired, and the Korea Massive Punishment and Retaliation system, which would target individuals in North Korea’s leadership and military command.

Defense experts interviewed by the Korea JoongAng Daily have highlighted advances in North Korean missiles in recent years as necessitating improvements in South Korea’s missile defense systems.

Antoine Bondaz, director of the Korea Program for the Paris-based Foundation for Strategic Research, noted that newly tested North Korean missiles such as the KN-23 and KN-24 do not fly in the usual parabolic trajectories of ballistic missiles, but can perform “pull-up” maneuvers at lower altitudes as they approach their targets, thereby evading missile defense system that targets them in their descent phase.

Retired Lt. Col. Kim Yeoul-soo, a senior researcher at the Korea Institute for Military Affairs, said that “anti-missile defense systems would have to increase in range and become more varied to target different types of North Korean missiles.”

BY MICHAEL LEE [lee.junhyuk@joongang.co.kr]