Thursday, September 21, 2006

Changing the Equation

It won't attract as much attention as North Korea's July 4th missile tests, but South Korea has announced a development that could further shift their military balance of power with the North. According to ROK defense officials, Seoul has developed a new cruise missile, capable of hitting virtually all portions of the DPRK with "precision" accuracy.

The new missile, tentatively nick-named "Sky Dragon" has technology similar to the U.S. Tomahawk, and will be operationally deployed next year, at land batteries and on submarines. ROK sources say the missile will have an initial range of 500km (310 NM), but that distance will increase with later models of the Sky Dragon. The missile was developed in response to North Korea's ballistic program which dates back more than two decades; work on the Sky Dragon began well before Pyongyang's unsuccessful ICBM test in early July.

Development and deployment of the missile are revolutionary in the sense that it will make North Korea's air defense system more obsolete (if that's possible). Pyongyang has large numbers of SA-2 and SA-2 surface-to-air missiles, and two sites that operate the long-range SA-5--but they are virtually useless against cruise missiles, flying toward their targets at extremely low altitudes. North Korea has more anti-aircraft artillery (AAA) batteries than any other nation on earth (covering the low/medium altitude blocks), but most of Pyongyang's AAA is old and optically-guided. To have any hope of hitting a cruise missile, gunners needed accurate tracking information, allowing them to point their guns in the right direction. But North Korea's radar network is equally antiquated, with only a marginal ability to detect targets at low-to-medium altitude. And, if that weren't bad enough (from the North's point-of-view), the cruise missiles will be almost impossible to target, since they will based on mobile ground launchers, and state-of-the art, ultra-quiet diesel submarines.

Seoul is planning a "double-digit" deployment of the Sky Dragon, beginning next year. It will provide an effective mechanism for striking high-value "fixed" targets in North Korea, including silo-based Tapeo-Dong 1 missiles, and (eventually) the TD-2. Protecting those sites against precision attack by U.S. and ROK cruise missiles (and other weapons) will require a massive investment in new air defenses, something that Pyongyang can ill-afford, unless Iran or Venezuela writes the check.

One more thought: Seoul's rapid development of an advanced weapon sends another, implicit signal to Pyongyang. A nation with an advanced technology and manufacturing base--like South Korea--can produce other types of advanced weaponry in relatively short order, say something that might make a suitable warhead for a cruise missile.


Mike H. said...

Japan should be joining the club pretty soon, why not S Korea? The cat is not going back in the bag.

El Jefe Maximo said...

The Japan comment is apt: I wonder what is driving the ROK cruise missile developments, fear of the NK's, or Japan ?

Either way, I also wonder to what degree the Sky Dragon is home produced, and how much it relies on foreign technology.

Anybody think the ROK/US alliance has another ten years ?