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Thursday, June 20, 2024

U.S. State Dept. approves sale of advanced interceptor missile to Korea

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A Standard Missile-6 (SM-6) is launched from the Arleigh-Burke class guided-missile destroyer USS John Paul Jones in June 2014. [U.S. NAVY]
A Standard Missile-6 (SM-6) is launched from the Arleigh-Burke class guided-missile destroyer USS John Paul Jones in June 2014. [U.S. NAVY]

The U.S. Department of State has approved the potential sale of the RIM-174 Standard Extended Range Active Missile interceptor system, also known as Standard Missile 6 (SM-6), and other related equipment to South Korea, according to the Pentagon’s Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) on Tuesday.

The purchase request by South Korea, which falls under the DSCA’s Foreign Military Sale category of government-to-government weapons exports, is estimated to cost $650 million.

According to the agency, Seoul has requested 38 SM-6 Block I systems, vertical launch canisters, training aids and other related equipment.

Seoul’s Defense Acquisition Program Administration announced the purchase request in March and a separate, 3.75-trillion-won ($2.8-billion) plan to buy 20 more F-35As by 2028.

“This proposed sale will support the foreign policy goals and national security objectives of the United States by improving the security of a major ally that is a force for political stability and economic progress in the Indo-Pacific region,” DSCA said in its news release.

“The proposed sale will improve the Republic of Korea’s capability to meet current and future threats while further enhancing interoperability with the United States and other allies,” it added.

Through the Foreign Military Sale program, the DSCA serves as an intermediary between foreign governments and contractors, ensuring equipment quality, confidentiality, delivery, training and support.

The agency said it submitted the certification of the sale to the U.S. Congress earlier Tuesday. Foreign government weapons purchase requests are subject to congressional approval.

Manufactured by Raytheon, the SM-6 system is designed for extended-range anti-air operations at sea.

Guided by an active radar homing technology from AIM-120 advanced medium-range air-to-air missiles, the SM-6 system can intercept fixed and rotary-wing aircraft, unmanned aerial vehicles, anti-ship cruise missiles in flight, and ballistic missiles in their terminal phase.

The SM-6 system can also intercept very high-altitude or sea-skimming anti-ship missiles. It can also be used as a high-speed anti-ship missile.

If Seoul’s sale request goes through, it is expected to install SM-6 interceptors on the South Korean Navy’s upcoming 8,200-ton Aegis system-equipped KDX-III Batch-II missile destroyers.

The South Korean Navy already operates SM-2 ship-to-air missiles on existing missile destroyers, but it is seeking an upgraded system for the new destroyers as North Korean military threats advance.

The SM-6 weapons systems are expected to strengthen the Korea Massive Punishment and Retaliation and Korea Air and Missile Defense components of the South Korean military’s so-called “tri-axis” defense strategy, which is aimed at deterring and defending against armed provocations by North Korea.

While the SM-2’s official range is 90 nautical miles (166 kilometers), estimates of the SM-6’s range is estimated to be between 200 nautical miles and 250 nautical miles.

If Congress approves, South Korea’s SM-6 acquisition project is expected to be completed by 2031.

The Pentagon approved the release of SM-6 to foreign customers in December 2017.

Current operators of the system include the U.S. Navy and the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force, while future operators besides Korea include the Royal Australian Navy.

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