Complementing THAAD & Patriot, South Korea Develops L-SAM AD System To Counter North’s Notoriety

South Korea has announced the completion of long-range surface-to-air missile development amid growing threats from North Korea and possibly taking a leaf out of Israel’s air defense strategy.

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The national weapons procurement agency announced on May 25 that South Korea had successfully finished developing its own Long-range Surface-to-Air Missile (L-SAM) system, which is a significant accomplishment in the country’s attempts to improve its military’s air defense capabilities.

According to the Defense Acquisition Program Administration (DAPA), the L-SAM intended to fire down incoming targets at altitudes of 50–60 kilometers, was recently deemed combat-suitable after it satisfied all the military’s technical standards.

Since the system’s development is complete, reports suggest that the L-SAM will likely enter production next year and be ready for deployment by 2028. Once deployed, the L-SAM is anticipated to be a vital component of the nation’s multi-tiered missile defense system, known as the Korea Air and Missile Defense.

The announcement comes just days after North Korea conducted a test launch of a short-range ballistic missile (SRBM) equipped with a novel autonomous guidance system. The missile was identified as the Hwasong-11D tactical ballistic missile. 

In response to the launch, the South Korean administration issued a press release saying, “We strongly condemn the North Korean missile launch as a clear act of provocation that seriously threatens the peace and stability of the Korean Peninsula.”

That said, Seoul has been relentlessly working to strengthen its air and missile defense network in the face of threats posed by North Korea as tensions between the two states continue to see an uptick. 

L-SAM - Wikipedia
L-SAM – Wikipedia

Last month, a South Korean military procurement agency was also approved to counter the looming North Korean threat. The SM-3s, also referred to as the “maritime ballistic missile interceptor project,” will be acquired through the US Foreign Military Sales program and mounted on Aegis ships.

For South Korea, the goal is to create an impenetrable air defense network to protect against regional missile threats. Besides the L-SAM, the country is also developing the Block-II variant of the L-SAM, intended to intercept targets at altitudes higher than the current one, which is presently being developed by the military.

South Korean Multi-Layered Missile Defense

During a military parade in Seoul last year, South Korea debuted the long-range surface-to-air missile (L-SAM) and projected it as a weapon essential to the nation’s developing missile defense strategy, especially for protecting against North Korean threats. 

It is intended to supplement other missile defense systems made for varying altitude ranges by offering mid-altitude interception coverage.

L-SAM is essential to South Korea’s efforts to support the Korea Air and Missile Defense system, which, together with Kill Chain and the Korea Massive Punishment and Retaliation, is one of the key elements of the so-called three-axis system.

The main goal of the Korean Air Missile Defense (KAMD) is to provide a multi-layered defense made up of several components. The KAMD consists of an interception system connected to the real-time strike system, an early warning system, and command and control. The main components of KAMD are THAAD, Patriot, M, and L SAM missiles.

The THAAD system combats threats in medium-to-high altitudes (40 to 150 kilometers). To complement that, L-SAM will be deployed with a target altitude of 40 to 70 kilometers. M-SAM-II and the US-origin Patriot system (PAC-3) will provide lower spectrum protection.

Image from X.

With active radar guidance, L-SAM is capable of engaging targets up to 200 kilometers away. Interestingly, the S-band frequencies of this South Korean system differ from the X-band of THAAD: Ballistic missiles and aircraft at a greater distance can be detected with the S-band, albeit with reduced precision.

The L-SAM system is anticipated to use two types of interceptors: one designed to target general air-breathing threats like airplanes or cruise missiles and the other designed to target ballistic threats. The anti-ballistic missile (ABM) has three stages in total and employs a hit-to-kill system that uses a kill vehicle equipped with infrared sensors and precision flight control capabilities to intercept targets.

An L-SAM battery will consist of four truck-mounted launchers—two for each type of missile—a command-and-control (C2) center, a battle control station, and a multifunction radar. Between November 2022 and June 2023, the L-SAM completed three of the four missile interception tests, demonstrating its capacity to intercept missiles.

Additionally, in April last year, DAPA announced the progress on developing sophisticated missile interceptors. It noted that the financing for the development of the medium-range surface-to-air missile (M-SAM) Block III and the long-range surface-to-air missile (L-SAM) II has been approved by the Defense Project Promotion Committee (DPPC) of the country.

The L-SAM II will be developed between 2024 and 2035, with funding provided by the DPPC totaling KRW2.71 trillion (about $2.02B). As part of the L-SAM II project, DAPA aims to acquire a high-altitude interceptor and gliding-stage interceptor missile. The high-altitude missile will have a higher interceptor altitude and a range three times greater than the L-SAM.