The South Korean military's firefinder radar systems to respond to surprise attacks by North Korean long-range artillery are not only lacking in terms of number, but are prone to breakdowns.
North Korea has deployed 340 long-range artillery pieces including 170 mm self-propelled howitzers and 240 mm multiple rocket launchers along the western frontline near the demilitarized zone, and the weapons are aimed directly at Seoul and other metropolitan areas. But out of the 20 anti-artillery radar systems the military has, six Arthur radars imported from Sweden broke down 78 times last year, while the U.S.-made TPQ-36 and 37 malfunctioned 98 and 60 times over the past five years. Experts say at least 10 more radars are needed in order to put up an effective defense.
North Korea's long-range artillery has ranges of between 54 km and 65 km and is capable of hitting Seoul, Incheon and even further south. The 240 mm multiple rocket launchers can even fire chemical warheads. That is what North Korea is talking about when it threatens to turn Seoul into a "sea of fire."
The military keeps track of North Korean long-range artillery positions using surveillance drones and spy satellites. In the event of a full-blown war where the North uses all of its long-range artillery pieces at once, the South would seek to disable those positions by mobilizing some 40 F-15K and 130 KF-16 fighter jets that will fire precision-guided missiles.
But the problem is when North Korea attacks Seoul using a few long-range artillery rounds in sporadic attacks. In that case, the South needs to wait until the North fires the rounds and backtrack the trajectory of the projectile to locate the source. That is where the anti-artillery radar comes in.
When there are so many malfunctions and there are not enough radars, the military will not be able to deal effectively with artillery attacks. The U.S.-made radars apparently break down often because they are outdated, while the Swedish ones malfunction due to overuse since there are not enough of them. If one or two long-range artillery shells land on Seoul, the fire could spread to gas and fuel pipelines, engulfing the city. Seoul must act immediately to bolster its anti-artillery radar systems and put up a viable, 24-hour defense to avoid a nightmare scenario.