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Yes, North Korea Has Deadly Missiles (But Watch Out for South Korea)

South Korea Missiles
The celebration ceremony for the 65th Anniversary of ROK Armed Forces

The recent summit meeting between U.S. President Joe Biden and South Korean President Moon Jae-in saw the two countries commit to enhanced cooperation in a number of areas ranging from COVID-19 vaccines to supply chain resiliency and climate change, and resulted in the production of a joint statement in which the two leaders laid out a shared commitment to and vision for the U.S.-ROK Alliance.

One of the most significant outcomes of the summit meeting was the complete lifting of restrictions regarding the development of South Korean missile capabilities. Restrictions placed on the range and payload of South Korean missiles in 1979 limited them to 180 km and 500 kg, respectively. Those restrictions have gradually been lifted over the years in response to the growing threat posed by North Korea’s nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs, and now have been lifted entirely.

Given the gradual lifting of restrictions over the years, South Korea has already developed missiles capable of striking the entirety of North Korea, leading many to believe that the complete lifting of the restrictions is more reflective of U.S. competition with China than a concern with North Korea. Indeed, recent comments coming out of North Korea criticizing the lifting of the restrictions have been seen by some analysts as indicating a belief that the move is aimed more at Beijing than Pyongyang.

As mentioned, South Korea has already developed an array of capable missile systems. These weapons form an integral part of South Korea’s strategy for combating either a North Korean ballistic missile attack or a larger attack by the North.

South Korea has developed a range of increasingly capable cruise missiles, including its family of Haeseong cruise missiles. This includes the Haeseong III, a supersonic submarine-launched land-attack cruise missile with a range of 1,500 km. The Haeseong II, meanwhile, is a ship-based supersonic land-attack cruise missile with a range of roughly 500 km. Multiple variants of the Haeseong II have been developed, including the VL-Haeseong II designed to be compatible with the Korean Vertical Launch System (K-VLS). Unlike its successors, the Haeseong I, with a range of 250 km, serves as an antiship cruise missile.

South Korea’s Hyunmoo series of weapons serve as the other mainstay of the ROK’s missile arsenal and includes both ballistic and cruise missile systems. This includes the Hyunmoo-2 series of solid-fueled short-range ballistic missiles (SRBMs). This series of weapons is made up of the Hyunmoo-2A, 2B, and 2C, and possess ranges of 300, 500, and 800 km, respectively.

The Hyunmoo-3, meanwhile, includes a series of land-attack cruise missiles. The Hyunmoo-3A and 3B, with ranges of 500 and 1,000 km, respectively, are ground-based, road mobile cruise missiles, while the Hyunmoo-3C is intended for deployment on both submarines and surface combatants and has a range of 1,500 km. Unlike the Haeseong series of sea-based weapons, the Hyunmoo-3 is classified as a strategic weapon by South Korea and is under the control of the Joint Chiefs as opposed to the ROK Navy.

In March of 2020, South Korea conducted an initial test of the Hyunmoo-4 ballistic missile, which will reportedly be capable of carrying a larger payload than the Hyunmoo-2 series of ballistic missiles out to a range of 800 km.

Written By

Eli Fuhrman is an Assistant Researcher in Korean Studies at the Center for the National Interest and a current graduate student at Georgetown University’s Security Studies Program, where he focuses on East Asian security issues and U.S. foreign and defense policy in the region.

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