Washington (UPI) Jan 22, 2008
Lose a key ally on ballistic missile defense, gain a key ally on ballistic missile defense. Late last year, as we noted in these columns, President Bush lost a crucial ally in his efforts to deploy ballistic missile defenses in Europe to help defend that continent and the United States from the future threat of Iranian intercontinental ballistic missiles.
Pro-American Polish Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski was replaced after a general election defeat by Donald Tusk, who wants to improve Warsaw's previously strained relations with Russia. As part of this change, Tusk and his top ministers have already sent out strong signals that they may not agree with allowing a base for 10 U.S. Ground-based Mid-course Interceptors, or GBIs, to intercept Iranian missiles, to be built in their country.
However, now the opposite dynamic is taking place at the other end of the Eurasian land mass. Outgoing South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun is being replaced by the dynamic Lee Myung-bak. And President-elect Lee and his transition team have already sent their own strong signals that as part of their overall master-plan to revitalize the venerable Washington-Seoul alliance, they are going to step up their country's BMD programs and, like neighboring Japan, join with the United States in developing them.
Rep. Chung Mong-joon, President-elect Lee's handpicked special envoy on U.S.-South Korean relations, said Tuesday the new leader in Seoul was determined to improve ties between the two allies for more than 60 years following a significant erosion in the relationship under the two previous liberal administrations of Presidents Roh and Kim Dae-jung.
"South Korea-U.S. relations have been seriously damaged because there has been a lack of sincere dialog between the two sides," Chung told reporters during a visit to Washington Tuesday, the Korea Times reported.
Chung's comments followed an earlier Korea Times report Sunday that the South Korean Defense Ministry had already given Lee's power transition team an outline update on the status of the U.S.-led global missile defense, or MD, network on Jan. 8.
"In a report to the transition team, the ministry explained defense reforms, transfer war time operational control, U.N. peace-keeping forces," a South Korean Defense Ministry official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told the newspaper, the source said. "The missile defense (network) was also included."
So far, both Defense Ministry officials in Seoul and members of Lee's inner circle are treating the issue of a boosted BMD program with great caution.
The South Korean defense official stressed that the Jan. 8 briefing did not involve any advocacy in BMD to the incoming government. "Personally, I think the MD should be carefully decided by the next government," he told the Korea Times.
Also, Lee Dong-kwan, the spokesman for the president-elect's transition team, emphasized that the briefing in no way committed the new government to changing the cautious BMD development programs it had inherited, let alone committing itself to participation with the United States in international BMD programs.
"Like the Proliferation Security Initiative, we should deal with the MD very carefully," Lee-Dong-kwan said, according to the Korea Times.
The newspaper noted that under outgoing President Roh, South Korea refused to participate in the international missile defense development initiative with the United States because North Korea, China and Russia were all so opposed to it. The paper also noted the increased financial costs that South Korea would incur from such a commitment.
However, the Korea Times reported that Lee's transition team was already studying the possibility of joining the U.S-led MD development program as part of its overall strategy of boosting and restoring frayed ties with Washington.
The paper said that Hyun In-taek, who it described as "one of the two major foreign policy makers of the incoming government," had already argued specifically for South Korea's active involvement in the MD program.
SM-3s for Sejong the Great
In previous BMD columns, we noted the irony that South Korea, a nation under a greater close-range BMD threat than any other industrial democracy in the world except Israel, has been far more cautious, slow-moving and even complacent in developing its BMD defenses than neighboring Japan, India or Taiwan.
However, this is now changing, and it is changing fast. On Monday, the Chosun Ilbo newspaper reported that the South Korean Defense Ministry is already considering arming the South Korean Navy's 7,600-ton-class Aegis destroyers, including a King Sejong the Great-class ship, with the latest U.S.-built Standard Missile-6 anti-ballistic missile interceptors to defend against and destroy North Korean ballistic missiles.
Such a decision would certainly be bold. The existing Standard Missile-3s have already established an impressive record of test interceptions. However, as the Chosun Ilbo noted, development of the SM-6 has not been completed.
Nevertheless, the newspaper reported that the new plans in Seoul call for at least 100 SM-6s to be ready for action Sejong the Great-class destroyers and on other South Korean warships within the next five years.
The paper also noted the contrast between the boldness of the new plan and the caution of previous proposals that the former South Korean governments of Presidents Roh Moo-hyun and Kim Dae-jung had refused to pursue.
Back in 2001-2002, the newspaper said that the South Korean Defense Ministry had wanted to buy Standard Missile-2 Block IVA missiles for the nation's Aegis radar system-equipped destroyers. But the government of the time nixed the idea and until now it remained a dead letter.
However, the Chosun Ilbo said in its report that a senior Defense Ministry official stated Sunday that South Korea now intends "to deploy SM-6 long-range sea-to-air missiles on the King Sejong-class destroyer, which we launched last year, and two other Aegis destroyers that will be built. A lot of progress has been made in Seoul-Washington talks on their purchase."
The paper noted that the SM-6 is believed be able to operate out to a distance of 190 miles to 240 miles and to have the capability of destroying incoming intermediate-range ballistic missiles as high as 18 miles -- 90,000 feet.
SM-3s, being developed by the United States and Japan, however, have a greater interception distance of about 300 miles and can intercept incoming missiles at heights of up to 96 miles -- around 100,000 feet, the paper noted.
This disparity has sparked a significant debate within South Korean defense circles, the Chosun Ilbo said. But the bottom line is, the paper said, that South Korean military officials recognize -- as we have pointed out in previous BMD Focus columns -- that to be effective at all, any Standard Missile interceptors operated by the South Korean navy will have to be operationally integrated into the U.S. BMD system in real time, in order to have access to U.S. satellite reconnaissance and advanced tracking radar arrays.
Even the SM-6 would be a very considerable advance on the outmoded Standard Missile-2 systems being carried on King Sejong the Great-class destroyers. The Chosun Ilbo noted that these only can operate out to a distance of less than 90 miles and have very limited interception capabilities.
The paper noted in addition to SM-6 missiles, current South Korean plans also call for the eventual purchase and deployment of U.S.-built Patriot Advanced Capability, or PAC-3 land-based interceptor batteries.
Source: United Press InternationalRelated Links
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Olmert briefed on Israeli missile shield progress
Jerusalem (AFP) Jan 22, 2008
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on Tuesday visited Rafael Advanced Defence Systems, which has been tasked with developing missiles to counter short- and medium-range rockets, his office said.
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