South Korea plans to upgrade its Patriot Air and Missile Defense systems to the PAC-3 variant, American defense contractor Raytheon announced Monday.
The South Korea military awarded Raytheon a $770 million dollar contract to upgrade the country’s Patriot systems. These upgrades are intended to prepare the South for the Patriot Advanced Capability-3 (PAC-3) missile interceptor, which would serve as an improved counter against the North Korean ballistic missile threat. This purchase represents the latest move in what has developed into something of an arms race between North Korean missiles and South Korean missile interceptors.
The South Korean military currently fields the PAC-2, an older version of the Patriot featuring four missile interceptors per launcher. The PAC-3 represents a significant advance. The system features several technical upgrades, and increases the number of missile interceptors per launcher to 16. While the purchase would be a first for the ROK military, PAC-3 launchers operated by the U.S. military have been in South Korea since 2003.
The Raytheon contract does not actually provide the South with PAC-3s, but addresses several network and technical issues. Another U.S. defense contractor, Lockheed Martin, which manufactures the PAC-3, has stated that they expect to finish a deal with South Korea for the delivery of an undisclosed number of the missiles in the next few months.
North Korea has been developing indigenously produced ballistic missiles continuously since the 1980s. Recent confirmation of a submarine-launched ballistic missile program and continued uncertainty about the KN-08 intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) are but the latest developments in a drama that, along with North Korean nuclear weapons program, has had serious consequences for regional security in Northeast Asia. Even the most conservative estimates of North Korean missile capabilities show that the North could reliably hit anywhere on the Peninsula. Such missiles could theoretically be used to deliver weapons of mass destruction against civilian and military targets, so the development of a missile defense shield is a priority for the South.
The PAC-3 missiles are not the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) missile defense system that has been the focus of much debate and discussion recently. While Lockheed Martin manufactures both systems, they are intended to play unique but supporting roles.
The Patriot was primarily designed for defending smaller areas against enemy air attacks (including aircraft) and direct missile strikes at lower altitudes. The THAAD system is better suited to defend a wider area against incoming missiles and intercept threats further out and at higher altitudes than the Patriot. The two systems are intended to compliment one another as part of a larger air and missile defense network.
Featured image: Wikimedia Commons
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