It is difficult to block North Korean missiles that are ‘mixed and fired’ with Korean MD
Recently, Russian President Vladimir Putin may be burning his stomach more than at any time since the invasion of Ukraine. After President Putin announced on May 20 (local time) that he had captured Bakhmut, a strategic city in southeast Ukraine, Russia fell into a mood of self-congratulation. However, if you look inside, the feelings of the Russian leadership are inevitably complicated. This is because the number of Russian casualties this year is equivalent to that of the previous 10 months combined. Initially, Russia planned to seize the strategic base of Bakhmut and then advance to other major cities, such as Slavyansk, with momentum. However, with the loss of virtually all of the reserve forces in Bahmut, it was in a situation where it could not even afford to stop the upcoming Ukrainian counterattack, let alone further advance.
The part that angers President Putin the most is the bare face of Russia’s weapons system, which is being revealed one by one in this war. President Putin lost face in early May when Ukraine succeeded in intercepting Russia’s most powerful strategic weapon, the Kinzhal, using the outdated Patriot air defense system. Kinzal is a “game changer” that President Putin boasted about half of the time in his State of the Union Address in March 2018. As a result, it became like losing in a real battle with the American-made Patriot.
The Patriot that Ukraine used to intercept Kinjal this time is the PAC-3 system, and the interceptor is the CRI model. The CRI was developed around the same time as the latest interceptor MSE, but it is a cheaper version with a focus on cost reduction. Compared to the MSE, both the range and interception altitude are only half the level, but the low price is attractive. It is also a model that the Korean military is mainly operating in the PAC-3. Russia’s cutting-edge game-changer, which President Putin himself boasted about, was shot down by a cheap interceptor weapon from the United States.
Looking at the catalog data alone, the Kinjal missile is an invincible weapon that is almost impossible to intercept with most air defense systems. It is usually expressed as a ‘hypersonic weapon’, but in reality it can be called an ‘air-launched ballistic missile (ALBM)’. Its overall flight characteristics are closer to the anomalous ballistics of missiles like the Iskander than hypersonic glide. It surges one or two times in the terminal stage and changes the flight trajectory, and it is a very difficult target for defense because it is high-speed reaching Mach (sonic speed) 10. Russia developed Kinzal to defeat US and European missile defense (MD) systems. It is a weapon that was released in response to the construction of the ground-based MD system ‘Aegis Ashore’ in Poland and Romania by the United States. The SM-3 missile mounted on Aegis Ashore has a range of 700 to 900 km. The plan was to subdue the Aegis Ashore by shooting ballistic missiles flying at altitudes and distances that could not be intercepted with the SM-3. Why was the missile that Russia praised itself as an ‘MD killer’ so easily shot down by the US MD system?
The Russians considered the Ukrainian PAC-3 too easy opponents. Russia was overconfident in Kinzal performance and thought that it would be able to easily subdue at least one Ukrainian Patriot battery with a small number. On May 4, the Russians fired two Kinjals at Patriot batteries deployed north of Kieu, but all were intercepted by Patriots. On May 16, Kinbal fired six shots, but all of them were intercepted. A shortage of weapons may have played a role in the low number of Kinzal launched by Russia.
The CRI interceptor model of the PAC-3 possessed by the Ukrainian military has a maximum range of only 20 km. This is a distance that a Kinjal missile can approach in 6 seconds. It is difficult for PAC-3 to secure a chance to engage more than twice against Kinjal. Video footage of the interception shows Ukrainian forces firing multiple CRIs at Kinzal in an attempt to intercept it. For example, on May 4, Ukraine reportedly fired 36 CRI rounds to intercept just two Kinzal. This means that the relatively low probability of interception was raised by increasing the number of interceptors.
In fact, this method is virtually the only countermeasure against missiles that draw irregular ballistics with an end-stage lower layer defense system with a short range and interception altitude. As pointed out earlier, missiles such as Kinjal and Iskander do not descend while drawing an ‘honest parabola’ at the end stage, but rise and fall once or twice. It is difficult to predict exactly where it will fall. Usually, interceptor missiles such as the Patriot are launched after calculating the future position in order to respond to the target falling at high speed. Near the point where the target is expected to reach, the interceptor missile once again pinpoints its exact location via its own search radar. Missiles that change course several times in the terminal stage are difficult to intercept through re-positioning. It is for this reason that Ukraine fired 36 CRI shots while intercepting just two Kinzal. Since it is difficult to estimate the location, all missiles were fired at each expected candidate coordinate.
Despite these difficulties, the reason why Ukraine succeeded in missile defense twice on May 4 and 16 is because the number of missiles fired by Russia was small. About 6 rounds of Kinjal is a level that can be defended if you do your best with the PAC-3. As a result, Ukraine succeeded in defending Kiiu after a missile interception. It is this point that should be noted from the Korean point of view. With end-stage low-level defense interceptors such as the PAC-3 and Cheongung-2, even a single battery can block only a small amount of ballistic missiles.
Currently, the Korean military is introducing 8 batteries of Patriot and 7 batteries of Cheongung-2. One battery for Patriot and Cheongung consists of 6 and 4 launchers, respectively. The military authorities announced that they plan to increase the Cheongung-2 force from the current seven batteries to 20 batteries in the future. However, rather than producing as much new Cheongung-2, it plans to improve the existing Cheongung battery so that it can use the Cheongung-2 interceptor missile. If so, can this amount of power be able to fend off the North Korean threat?
The South Korean military authorities are confident of an impregnable defense posture, but it is difficult to sufficiently defend against the North Korean threat with the existing missile capabilities. As analyzed earlier, the Patriot of the Ukrainian Army, which fired dozens of interceptors and intercepted 2 to 6 Kinjal, has specifications similar to those of the Korean Army. Cheongung-2 also has no significant performance difference from Patriot in terms of range and interception altitude. Recalling that one Patriot battery barely blocked six enemy missiles in actual combat, if North Korea fires six or more missiles into the defense zone of one Patriot/Cheongoong-2 battery, the South Korean military power can be easily suppressed. In fact, after adopting a tactic aimed at this loophole, North Korea is introducing a large amount of necessary weapons.
For example, the North Korean military showed off vehicle, rail, and underwater launch models of the KN-23 missile, which is well known as the “North Korean version of Iskander.” It is known that the number of missiles and launch vehicles has been deployed in such a large amount that it is difficult to count. The Hwasong-11 series of missiles, called ‘North Korean version of ATACMS’, are also deployed in large numbers with derivative models of various ranges and warhead weights. Ballistic missiles of the Hwasong 5, 6, and 7 series, which number 100 to 200 launch vehicles, are also in good health. In addition, the North Korean military possesses countless multi-launch rocket vehicles equipped with 4 to 12 large-caliber rockets per unit. Among them, large-diameter rockets of 300 millimeters or more are threatening because their flight characteristics are similar to those of tactical ballistic missiles, and their range is long enough to hit most areas in South Korea.
The 600mm super-large multiple rocket launchers that North Korea simultaneously unveiled on December 31 last year should also be noted. The rocket that appeared at this time was large enough to rival Scud-B. Since one launch vehicle can fire 6 rounds, it is possible to pour 12 rounds of ballistic rockets into one battery of the Korean Army’s Patriot and Cheongung-2 even with the mobilization of 30 600mm multiplexers released at the time. If North Korea decides to launch a military attack on South Korea, it will not use only one type of super-large multiple rocket launcher. In case of emergency, North Korea will launch a large number of multiple launchers of all calibers from 240mm to 600mm, and use a combination of cruise missiles and drones to overwhelm the South Korean air defense network. North Korea seems to have sensed the power of such a “mixed fire” during the Russia-Ukraine war and missile attacks and defenses between Saudi Arabia and Houthi rebels that have continued in recent years. It is difficult to effectively respond to hybrid strike warfare with the current missile defense network of the South Korean military.
Since the mid-2010s, North Korea has started to build up forces to strike South Korea as a hybrid in case of emergency. As a result, it has virtually completed its threat posture against South Korea by deploying various types of ballistic missiles and large-caliber multiplexers in large quantities. In a situation where the North Korean leadership can drop thousands of missiles and rockets on the heads of South Koreans if they so choose, the military’s countermeasures are difficult to understand. The Air Force deploys the PAC-3 and Cheongung-2, and the Army separately builds an air defense network under the names of ‘Long Range Artillery Intercept System-I’ and ‘Long Range Artillery Intercept System-II’. Even that is not immediately electrified, but the plan is to deploy it in the 2030s through domestic development.
In the mid-2010s, when North Korea’s threat of large-caliber multiple rocket launchers became visible, there was a strong voice in Korea that the Israeli version of MD ‘Iron Dome’ should be introduced. Then, the military authorities suddenly said, “Iron Dome was developed for intercepting short-range rockets launched by guerrillas in small quantities, so it cannot respond to the North Korean threat that fires large-caliber rockets in large quantities.” set out to develop Contrary to the claims of the military authorities, the Iron Dome in Israel showed an interception rate of over 90% against short and medium-range missiles launched by Islamic militants in May of last year and hundreds of rounds each of this year. The Iron Dome, which has proven its usefulness in practice, can be deployed within one to two years if ordered now. The interceptor missile ‘Tamir’ used in Iron Dome can also be introduced for 110,000 dollars (approximately 145 million won) per shot.
The LAMD that the South Korean military authorities are trying to introduce could be completed in 2029 at the earliest and deployed in the early 2030s. It is known that the range of the interceptor missile is less than one-third of that of Tamir, but the expected price is said to be 7 times that, or 1 billion won. LAMD is said to be developed so that one battery can catch 190 rockets at the same time. By simple calculation, 190 billion won is lost in the blink of an eye even if only one battery launches a salvo. It is doubtful whether it is necessary to choose an uncertain alternative that requires more cost and time amid the escalating North Korean nuclear and missile threat.
The interception of Kiiu between Ukraine and Russia clearly showed the limitations of the MD system centered on the end-stage lower defense. In other words, it can be said to be an opportunity to confirm the problems of LAMD and the Korean Air and Missile Defense (KAMD) system. Recently, the government launched an organization called the ‘Defense Innovation Committee’ directly under the president. If the government’s will to innovate defense is clear, I hope it will study the lessons from the Russia-Ukraine war and take a closer look at the KAMD and LAMD plans, which are directly related to public safety.
Published in issue 1391>
Shin In-kyun, CEO of Self-Defense Network
Mark Jones is a world traveler and journalist for News Rebeat. With a curious mind and a love of adventure, Mark brings a unique perspective to the latest global events and provides in-depth and thought-provoking coverage of the world at large.