The South Korean military has taken an active part in U.S. missile defense exercises for years, it admitted Sunday. Until now, the military had been saying the troops only took part as observers.
South Korean forces "have been taking part in U.S. missile defense system training exercises in the Pacific for years," a government official here said. "We plan to take part in exercises in the Pacific this year aboard U.S. Aegis destroyers." They apparently trained in command communications.
But the official claimed that does not mean South Korea is part of the U.S.-led missile defense system. "We took part in the exercises in order to gain help in the development of our own missile defense system set to be established around 2015."
The U.S. missile defense system involves ground-based missiles, SM-3 missiles and PAC-3 Patriot missiles based on Aegis destroyers capable of hitting targets 10 km to 1,000 km in the air. The Korean project, by contrast, envisages striking targets 10 km to 30 km in the air with Cheolmae-2 missiles, which are under development, and PAC-2 Patriot missiles.
The U.S. asked South Korea to join its missile defense system, but Seoul decided to pursue its own project, tailored to respond to North Korean attacks, due to cost concerns and possible opposition from China. "The threats we face come from North Korean Scud missiles with a range of less than 500 km and some Rodong missiles that have ranges of 1,300 km, rather than the North's long-range missiles that can fly thousands of kilometers," a military source said.