SEOUL (REUTERS) - South Korea will sign a deal to upgrade its Patriot missile system by the end of this year, the defence procurement agency said on Wednesday, with the contract valued at around 1.5 trillion won (S$1.8 billion).
The upgrade, which is set to benefit US defence firms Raytheon Co and Lockheed Martin Corp, is part of South Korea's plan to increase its anti-ballistic capabilities against unpredictable North Korea, which has carried out two long-range missile tests and a nuclear weapons test in the past two years.
"Once the improvement in Patriot capabilities is completed, it will be possible to directly hit the warhead of a ballistic missile to prevent damage to the ground," Mr Baek Youn Hyeong, a spokesman for the Defence Acquisition Programme Administration (DAPA), told reporters.
South Korea wants to upgrade its Patriot missile launch system to PAC-3 Configuration 3 as well as buy PAC-3 missiles, with delivery expected to start in 2016, another DAPA official told Reuters. He declined to be named as he was not authorised to speak to the media.
A spokesperson for Raytheon, which makes the Patriot launch system, said the company had provided South Korea with the necessary information. A spokesperson for Lockheed Martin, which manufactures the PAC-3 missiles, declined to comment.
DAPA officials declined say how much the arms upgrade would cost or give further details about the purchase, but the defence ministry had set aside around 1.5 trillion Korean won for the upgrade in an earlier arms procurement plan.
Hwang Sung-hwan, head of DAPA's guided weapons programmes, said it would cost South Korea between 3.4 trillion and 3.5 trillion won to buy a whole, brand-new system instead of upgrading existing equipment.
South Korea has since 2008 imported its Patriot missiles second-hand from Germany. It currently has PAC-2 missiles and the PAC-3 Configuration 2 launch system and last week, the defence ministry said it would spend some 70 trillion won over the next four years to bolster its defences against North Korea.