Last week, the South Korean government approved a major development proposal for advanced missile interceptor systems to counter the evolving military threats from North Korea and strengthen its national defense capabilities.

Since the beginning of fiscal year 2023, Seoul has made the strategic response to Pyongyang’s ballistic missile threats one of its top priorities. To this end, South Korea has been expanding its “Three-Axis” system, which it introduced in the mid-2010s after North Korea’s fifth nuclear test in 2016. This system, which shares some similarities with the US nuclear triad, employs a combination of cutting-edge military assets, including F-35 fighter aircraft, reconnaissance satellites, air defense systems, and ballistic missiles. Furthermore, it seeks to enhance South Korea’s defense capacity against potential missile attacks from the North.

The “Three-Axis” system consists of three components: “Kill Chain,” “Korea Air and Missile Defense (KAMD),” and “Korea Massive Punishment and Retaliation (KMPR).” “Kill Chain” is a preemptive strike system designed to destroy incoming weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) before they reach their targets across the South Korean territory and population. “KAMD” is a multi-layered missile defense system that intercepts and destroys incoming missiles. Lastly, “KMPR” is a counteroffensive system that involves launching a massive retaliation primarily targeting North Korean leadership, including supreme leader Kim Jong-un, in response to a significant military provocation or WMD attack.

South’s Ramping Up Its Defense Capabilities

Seoul currently lacks a hypersonic ballistic missile defense system. But, nevertheless, has several capable systems in place, including the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system, Patriot Advanced Capability (PAC-3) system, and Korea Air and Missile Defense (KAMD) system, which can counter and destroy incoming missiles from North Korea or other potential adversaries. However, the recent announcement of approving a plan to pursue a long-range missile defense system marks a significant milestone for South Korea’s effort to strengthen its national defense capabilities. This move underscores the country’s commitment to enhancing its military readiness and addressing the evolving threats posed by North Korea’s missile programs.

According to Yonhap News Agency, citing the country’s Defense Acquisition Program Administration (DAPA) report, the South Korean government has set aside about 2.71 trillion Korean won ($2.03 billion) to develop a long-range surface-to-air missile (L-SAM) II defense system, which will take place between 2024 to 2035.