Spike NLOS missile launcher mounted on a Humvee

Spike NLOS missile launcher mounted on a Humvee (Source: MilitaryPhotos)

South Korea wants to purchase 50 Spike anti-tank missiles from Israel and would like to deploy them on Yeonpyeong island by mid-2012, Yonhap News reported on Monday. The island, which was hit by North Korean artillery last November, is only 12 km from North Korea’s coast. It is part of a group of islands known to Koreans as the West Sea Islands (the West Sea is the Korean name for the Yellow Sea; as the Sea of Japan is the East Sea – a subject of contention among the two countries). North Korea contests South Korea’s control of the islands, which lie south of the Northern Limit Line delineating the South’s territorial control (as decided by the United Nations).

The ROK Army is apparently eyeing Rafael Advanced Defense Systems’ non-line-of-sight (NLOS) variant of the missile – capable of hitting targets from above at ranges of up to 25 kilometres, according to the manufacturer. With GPS-guidance, the missile is comparable to the US fire-and-forget Javelin missile. Its tandem HEAT warhead gives the missile the ability to penetrate basic reactive armour types. (Those interested might want to look at Rafael’s brochure here [PDF].)The missile’s superlative range will undoubtedly be used in a primarily counter-artillery role. At around 70kg, however, it would likely be mounted to a vehicle, maybe even a helicopter.

A South Korean army AH-1S helicopter fires a missile during a live fire drill in Yangpyeong, east of Seoul January 6, 2011

A South Korean army AH-1S helicopter fires a missile during a live fire drill in Yangpyeong, east of Seoul January 6, 2011 (Source: Military Photos)

 

Build-up

The possible use of rotary-wing platforms would mesh with South Korea’s reported plans to permanently deploy four AH-1S Cobra attack helicopters to the islands as part of the creation of a large anti-invasion force, possibly under the command of a new regional West Sea defense command.

The islands have been under intense pressure following the artillery strike on Yeonpyeong. Japan Security Watch has discussed the move of North Korean hovercraft to a nearby coastal base capable of housing almost half the known national complement of hovercraft, as well as the North Korean army’s winter exercises that have supposedly focused on invading the islands.

Its unsurprising then that the South Koreans are in a hurry. Last month, they set aside 90 billion won for the Spike missiles, but Rafael were unable to supply the quantity required quickly enough. Unable to wait a year for Rafael to produce enough stock, the Koreans will instead purchase their missiles directly from the Israeli government, according to the Korea Times.

“Scores of Spike units will be procured from the Israeli military under a government-to-government negotiation in an effort to speed up the deployment of high-tech weapons systems on Yeonpyeong,” said the source.

 

AN/TPQ-37 Firefinder weapon locating radar

AN/TPQ-37 Firefinder radar (Source: RadarTutorial.eu)

In addition to the Spike missiles, the South is looking to bolster its artillery fire location finding radar stock with upgrades to its eighteen 20-year old AN/TPQ-36/37 Firefinder radars, no doubt hoping to address the issues that kept an AN/TPQ-37 on Yeonpyeong from working properly in the November attacks.

Alongside the upgrades, the ROK Army has been building a stock of Saab-built ARTHUR units (six to date), to be increased in the next five years by further ARTHUR units built domestically at LIG Nex under license. As Defense News reports:

 

“With upgrades to existing AN/TPQ-36/37 radars and production of ARTHURs, we aim to deploy up to 50 mobile weapon-locator radars on the islands in the West Sea, as well as along the 155-mile demilitarized zone,” a DAPA official said. But both the AN/TPQ-36/37 and ARTHUR can miss fast, low-flying artillery, he said. “To supplement that problem, we’ve also requested a budget for purchasing hostile artillery locating [HALO] systems that use multiple acoustic sensors,” the official said. HALO systems use passive acoustic locators, precise meteorological monitoring, and terrain data to fix and identify hostile artillery, mortars, and even improvised explosive devices. The JCS plans to deploy HALOs on Yeonpyeong and Baengnyeong islands by the end of 2011.

 

Saab ARTHUR stand alone medium-range passive phased array C-band radar

Saab ARTHUR medium-range radar (Source: Defense Industry Daily)

Implications

With the collapse of the inter-Korean talks, the South Koreans are scrambling to fill the gaps in their defenses. With Kim Jong-un’s promotion today to vice chairman of the National Defense Commission, the prospects of the North manufacturing further crises to cement the succession and extract aid from the US and South Korea seems likely. Keeping their flanks tights will give the South Koreans an added sense of security, as well as demonstrating that the Lee government is taking steps to prevent a repeat of last year’s tragic attack.

 

Spike NLOS Anti-Tank Missile video

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A former contributor to World Intelligence (Japan Military Review), James Simpson joined Japan Security Watch in 2011, migrating with his blog Defending Japan. He has a Masters in Security Studies from Aberystwyth University and is currently living in Kawasaki, Japan. His primary interests include the so-called 'normalization' of Japanese security (i.e. militarization), and the political impact of the abduction issue with North Korea.
James Simpson has 254 post(s) on Japan Security Watch