South Korean army reveals plan to develop 'Frankenmissile' targeting North Korea

A file photo of a South Korean soldier standing by a Hyunmoo-2 ballistic missile system during a media day presentation of a commemoration event marking SouthKorea's Armed Forces Day, on Sept 25, 2017.
A file photo of a South Korean soldier standing by a Hyunmoo-2 ballistic missile system during a media day presentation of a commemoration event marking SouthKorea's Armed Forces Day, on Sept 25, 2017. PHOTO: AFP

SEOUL (THE KOREA HERALD/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - South Korea's military plans to develop a "Frankenmissile" to counter North Korea's escalating missile and nuclear capabilities in a bid to overwhelm the North during the initial phase of the war.

In its report for an annual parliamentary audit by the National Assembly's Defence Committee, the army said they would develop the "Hyunmoo IV" surface-to-surface missile, powerful enough to destroy North Korea's underground military facilities and command centre.

Combined with indigenous tactical surface-to-surface missiles and Hyunmoo-class intermediate-range ballistic missiles, the advanced pre-emptive strike capability would inflict "unbearable cost" on the North by neutralising its nuclear and missile sites, as well as long-range artillery units, the army said.

"We would use those three types of missiles as the first salvo of the missile strike and concentrate them during the initial phase of war to destroy North Korea's long-range artillery units and missiles located in ballistic missile operating area," the army said in its report on Thursday (Oct 19).

South Korea has been suspected of working on advancing its ballistic missiles capability since it struck a deal with the US to scrap limits on the missiles' payload in September. Previously, Seoul was banned from fitting warheads weighing more than 500kg on its ballistic missiles with a range of over 800km.

The development of such an advanced ballistic missile is part of the army's efforts to establish a "game-changing" operational concept, which is designed to minimize civilian casualties and end the war as soon as possible, the army said.

The "five-pillar" concept calls for the military to develop a high-precision powerful missile, establish agile manoeuvre corps, build units using drones and robots, develop an advanced battle system and create a special warfare brigade for "deception strikes" against North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un.

South Korea's Marine Corps, for its part, announced plans to establish a new command dedicated to protecting border islands, pledging to defend the sea border against North Korea's attacks and infiltration attempts.

During the parliamentary audit, the Marine Corps said the new command will be built around 2020 and based on the current Northwestern Island Defence Command. It was formed in 2011 following North Korea's artillery attack on Yeongpyeongdo, one of the farmost islands in the West Sea.

"Not only do we focus on the northwestern island, the Marine Corps will seek to expand the command into a new defence command for strategic islands," said Marine Corps' commander General Jun Jin Goo.

"We will seek to establish a unified command structure for strategic islands in the west, east and south sea."

The announcement came amid the increased threat posed by North Korea against South Korea's border areas. In August, Pyongyang revealed its military training designed to seize Yeongpyeongdo and nearby Baengnyeongdo.

Some lawmakers have voiced concerns that North Korea might try to forcefully occupy those near-border islands. Last week, South Korea's Defence Minister Song Young Moo acknowledged that it is a plausible scenario.

Asked about those eventualities, South Koreas' Navy chief Adm. Um Hyung Sung on Thursday pledged a strong response, saying the military would treat the North's occupation attempt as an "all-out war situation."

"In the event of the enemy's provocations, front-line units can't afford to judge whether this is a localized skirmish or an all-out war. We will retaliate as if it is an all-out war," Um told lawmakers. "We have maintained a robust readiness posture."

The Marines Corps said it would establish a unit to defend Dokdo, a set of islets in the East Sea that have been the subject of a territorial dispute with Japan. Dubbed the "Ulleung unit" - named after the island near Dokdo - the unit will interdict infiltration attempts near the waters. The Marine Corps seeks to build the unit by 2020.

In a bid to build an "aggressive operation" against North Korea's provocations, the Navy also announced plans to create a new maneuver fleet and an aviation command by 2023.

The new fleet will include several 6,000-tonne KDDX Aegis destroyers and three additional 7,600-tonne KDX-III Aegis destroyers. The KDDX ships, which will be built in the mid-2020s, are to be equipped with an advanced ballistic missile defence system and ship-to-surface missiles.

"We will focus on improving our capability to strike the North Korean leadership and core targets inside (the North's) ballistic missile operation area," the Navy said in its report for the parliamentary audit.

"We will focus on improving sea-based anti-missile operations."