The Korea Herald

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S. Korea to develop capabilities to destroy N. Korean missiles before liftoff

By Ji Da-gyum

Published : March 3, 2023 - 17:25

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Passersby watch a news report on North Korean missile launches on Feb. 20 at Seoul Station in Seoul. (Yonhap) Passersby watch a news report on North Korean missile launches on Feb. 20 at Seoul Station in Seoul. (Yonhap)
South Korea’s Defense Ministry on Friday announced its plan to develop a new anti-missile approach to destroy North Korean missiles before liftoff under the Yoon Suk Yeol government’s new defense reform initiative.

The military underscored that its “top priority is to develop reliable deterrence and response capabilities to North Korean nuclear and missile threats which are currently one of the most serious and realistic threats” in the so-called Defense Reform 4.0 plan, which will replace the Moon Jae-in government’s Defense Reform 2.0.

To that end, the Defense Ministry said it will develop “left of launch” capabilities -- which aim to foil North Korea’s attempt to launch missiles before they are fired with nonkinetic methods or “soft kill” -- as part of efforts to reinforce the current three-axis defense system.

South Korea has sought to expeditiously complete the homegrown defense system, which consists of the Kill Chain preemptive strike mechanism, the Korea Air and Missile Defense and the Korea Massive Punishment and Retaliation, and its operational concept.

The Kill Chain mainly focuses on physically striking and destroying targets with “hard-kill” measures before missiles are launched.

But South Korea seeks to develop nonkinetic or soft kill measures, including cyberstrikes and electromagnetic propagation to knock out North Korea’s missiles before liftoff, South Korean officials said during a closed-door briefing.

The South Korean military has begun developing some soft kill measures, one of the officials said.

But another official admitted that it’s challenging to thwart North Korean missile launches before liftoff only through soft kill measures including hacking into the enemy command-and-control systems, adding that developing soft kill options is a fraction of South Korea’s left-of-launch programs.

South Korea, therefore, has sought to develop a wide range of options to acquire left-of-launch capabilities including political and diplomatic options, including blocking North Korea from “developing missiles and technologies and planting codes to components” of weapons during the development stage.