A trio of planned South Korean guided missile destroyers will be built with the capability to intercept ballistic missile threats, USNI News has learned.
The addition of the capability will give the Republic of Korea (RoK) Navy a powerful organic BMD capability in addition to U.S. Army ground-based interceptors peppered throughout South Korea.
Under the plan, the three remaining ships in the Sejong the Great-class will be able to simultaneously intercept traditional air warfare threats while adding a ballistic missile defense capability through a series of hardware and software upgrades over the current class of ship, several sources confirmed to USNI News.
The destroyers will be fitted with the U.S. Navy’s Baseline 9 version of the Aegis Combat System that combines modern computing architecture to allow the ship’s AN/SPY-1D(v) radar to detect and track aircraft, cruise missiles and ballistic missiles at the same time.
The capability will likely be paired with Raytheon Standard Missile 3 BMD interceptors the ships can pair with the combat system to detect and destroy medium-range ballistic missile threats. Several Korean press outlets have reported the military is seeking to install SM-3s on the three new ships.
Officials with Aegis combat system developer Lockheed Martin told USNI News the new Korean ships would have an “integrated air and missile defense” (IAMD) capability installed aboard but would not elaborate on any other details of the combat system.
IAMD is a term used widely by the U.S. Navy to describe the ability of an Aegis-equipped guided missile destroyer to perform the traditional air warfare and BMD missions at the same time using the Baseline 9 combat system.
The first three Sejong the Great destroyers are fitted with Aegis Baseline 7, which is based on older proprietary computers, that aren’t able to carry out IAMD operations.
In addition to the South Korean Navy, the Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF) is upgrading their Aegis destroyers with a Baseline 9 capability and is developing a new BMD interceptor with the U.S.
News of the planned RoK Navy capability comes as North Korea steadily improves its ballistic missile technology from both ground station and from submarines. In addition to a late August test of a submarine launched ballistic missile, North Korean forces also launched three medium-range ballistic missiles into the sea on Monday.
“In light of recent North Korean efforts to bolster offensive missile capabilities, it now makes a lot of sense for the South Koreans to consider the potential acquisition of defensive SM-3s to arm their Aegis warships and to boost ballistic missile defense capabilities,” Eric Wertheim author of U.S. Naval Institute’s Combat Fleets of the World told USNI News on last month.