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Korea, U.S. boost missile defense cooperation

The South Korean and U.S. militaries will increase cooperation in countering North Korea’s missile threats, a Defense Ministry official said on Sunday.

The U.S. forces will share intelligence and provide support for an air and missile defense system South Korea plans to launch in December, the official said.

The increase in Seoul-Washington collaboration in missile defenses is thought to have resulted as part of a compromise in the negotiations over extending the range of ballistic missiles South Korea is able to develop.

Seoul is still restricted from developing ballistic missiles with ranges longer than 300 kilometers, leading the military to believe its ability to strike back at North Korea is severely limited.

The North, however, has been focusing on missile technology for some time, giving it an estimated lead of several years over South Korea.

As a result, North Korea fields a wide range of ballistic missiles with the largest models capable of striking Japan and even western parts of the U.S.

As such South Korea has been calling for an extension of the limit in order to secure missile technology capable of striking any location in North Korea.

According to the missile defense system plans, revealed after the two-plus-two South Korea and U.S. defense and foreign affairs ministerial talks in Washington, Seoul’s military will bring in an early-warning radar in November, and launch an air and missile defense cell the following month.

The radar used in the air and missile defense system will be the Green Pine Block-B ground-based early-warning radar produced by Israel’s ELTA Systems Ltd., which has a detection range of about 500 kilometers.

Under the new system, the Air Force’s missile defense and the capabilities of the Master Control and Report Center will be combined to provide comprehensive cover for North Korean missile with shorter ranges.

Once a ballistic missile is detected, the air and missile defense cell will relay interception orders to relevant units.

The interceptor missiles used by the system will include the PAC-2 Patriot that has a range of about 30 kilometers and the Cheolmae-2. The Cheolmae-2, developed by the Agency for Defense Development, has a range of about 15 kilometers.

In addition to ground units, the air and missile defense system will also be linked to the Navy’s Aegis destroyers equipped with SM-2 anti-air missiles.

Unlike the U.S. missile defense system that can detect and destroy long-range missiles, the South Korean system will be a “low-tier defense system” that focuses on ballistic missiles whose trajectory is within an altitude of 100 kilometers.

North Korea fields a variety of ballistic missiles with ranges varying from several hundred kilometers to the Taepodong-2, Pyongyang’s longest-range missiles with an estimate range of more than 6,000 kilometers.

According to the U.S., Pyongyang’s long-range rocket that failed in April shares the projection system with the Taepodong-2. The rocket, which Pyongyang claimed carried an observation satellite, reached an altitude of 151.4 kilometers before failing and falling into the West Sea on April 13.

By Choi He-suk  (cheesuk@heraldcorp.com)
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