South Korea Considering Development Of Artillery Defense System

[Mauldin Economics]

In an article I missed on the first go-round from last October, Ankit Panda, senior editor at The Diplomat, detailed a request by the South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff to the National Assembly Defense Committee to study the feasibility of a missile defense system to counter North Korean long-range artillery and rocket artillery capabilities.

North Korea has invested heavily in its arsenal of conventional artillery. Other than nuclear weapons, this capability likely poses the greatest threat to South Korean security, particularly given the vulnerability of the capital Seoul, a city of nearly 10 million that lies just 35 miles south of the demilitarized zone.

The artillery defense system the South Korean Joint Chiefs seek to develop is not intended to protect civilian areas, however. It would be designed to shield critical command-and-control and missile defense sites. They already considered and rejected buying Israel’s existing Iron Dome missile defense system as inadequate to the magnitude of the threat.

As Panda pointed out, the challenges are formidable for development an artillery defense system capable of effectively countering North Korean capabilities.

South Korea would need to be confident that it would be able to maintain an acceptable intercept rate against the incoming projectiles—a task that may require a prohibitively large investment in launchers and interceptors. Moreover, the battle management software required for a system like this may prove to be exceptionally complex as well. Existing missile defense systems can already have their systems overwhelmed by multiple targets.

It is likely that there will be broader interest in South Korean progress in this area (Iron Dome is a joint effort by the Israelis and Raytheon). Chinese and Russian long-range precision fires capabilities are bulwarks of the anti-access/area denial strategies the U.S. military is currently attempting to overcome via the Third Offset Strategy and multi-domain battle initiatives.

Did The Patriot BMD Miss Again In Saudi Arabia?

Apparent trajectory of Houthi Burqan ballistic missile fired at Saudi Arabia on 4 November 2017 [New York Times]

On 4 November 2017, Houthi rebels fired a Burqan 2H (a variant of the SCUD) ballistic missile from Yemeni territory aimed at Riyadh International Airport in Saudi Arabia. The Saudis claimed to have intercepted the missile before it hit using a U.S.-made Patriot PAC-2 ballistic missile defense (BMD) system.

A team of independent analysts have challenged that claim, however. Led by Jeffery Lewis, Director of the East Asia Nonproliferation Program at the Middleberry Institute of International Studies at Monterey, the team analyzed video of an impact near the Riyadh Airport and scattered missile debris. Based on this evidence, they concluded that five Saudi Patriot BMD missiles failed to intercept the incoming missile and that its warhead detonated on the ground just a kilometer away from a busy airport terminal.

The apparent failure of the Patriot BMD continues a string of operational disappointments that extends back to the 1991 Gulf War. Intended for terminal BMD against short and medium range ballistic missile threats, the Patriot forms part of the layered U.S. BMD system, and has also been sold to 14 other countries, including South Korea and Japan.

The credibility of U.S. and regional military defenses against North Korea rests significantly on perceptions of the effectiveness of U.S-made BMD. As President Donald Trump boasted the day after the alleged Saudi missile intercept, “Our [Patriot] system knocked the missile out of the air… That’s how good we are. Nobody makes what we make, and now we’re selling it all over the world.”

Insurgency In The DPRK?

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un visits the Kumsusan Palace of the Sun in Pyongyang, July 27, 2014. [KCNA/REUTERS]

As tensions have ratcheted up on the Korean peninsula following a new round of provocative actions by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK; North Korea), the prospect of war has once more become prominent. Renewed hostilities between the DPRK and the Republic of Korea (ROK; South Korea) is an old and oft studied scenario for the U.S. military. Although potential combat is likely to be intense, there is consensus that ROK forces and their U.S. allies would eventually prevail.

There is a great deal less clarity about what might happen after a military defeat of the DPRK. Military analyst and Columbia University professor Austin Long has taken a very interesting look at the prospect of an insurgency arising from the ashes of the regime of Kim Jong Un. Long does not confine the prospect of an insurgency in the north to a post-war scenario; it would be possible following any abrupt or forcible collapse of authority.

Long begins by looking at some of the historical factors for insurgency in a post-regime change environment and then examines each in the North Korean context. These include 1) unsecured weapons stockpiles; 2) elite regime forces;3) disbanded mass armies; 4) social network ties; 5) mobilizing ideology; and 6) sanctuary. He concludes that “the potential for an insurgency beginning after the collapse of the DPRK appears contingent but significant.”

With so much focus on the balance of conventional conflict, the potential for insurgency in North Korea might be of secondary concern. Hopefully, recent U.S. experience with the consequences of regime change will lead political and military planners to take it seriously.