South Korea's PAC-2 ballistic missiles have an intercept rate of less than 40 percent, according to joint South Korean-U.S. research released Sunday. The military is looking at buying PAC-3 missiles from the U.S. to make up for the deficiency.
The PAC-2 missile was developed as an anti-aircraft missile in the U.S. in 1990. It can approach targets at an altitude lower than 15 km and destroy them by detonating sub-missiles. Its poor accuracy has been a source of grief since the first Gulf War in 1991.
An upgraded version of the PAC-2 which South Korea bought is also incapable of perfectly destroying the warhead of an incoming missile, a Defense Ministry official admitted.
Unlike the PAC-2, the PAC-3 is a "hit-to-kill" interceptor capable of striking an incoming missile at altitudes of up to 30 km. It supposedly causes no damage on the ground since it destroys the payload high up in the air.
Defense Minister Kim Kwan-jin told reporters after the recent Seoul-Washington Security Consultative Meeting that a PAC-3 system is in the pipeline.
The plan could cause controversy since it could technically mean that South Korea falls under the U.S. missile defense shield, which it has been trying to stay out of for fear of annoying neighbors like China.
"We need to join part of the U.S.' command, control, communications, computers and information system to share U.S. intelligence on North Korea's nuclear weapons and missiles," a government official said. "Sharing information or introducing the PAC-3 doesn't necessarily mean joining the U.S. missile defense system."
Then there is the cost. It reportedly cost the military about W1 trillion (US$1=W1,097) to buy 48 second-hand PAC-2 missiles from Germany since 2008, and at least W3 trillion would be needed to build a similar system with PAC-3 missiles.
Meanwhile, some experts suspect that Washington pressured Seoul to buy PAC-3 missiles in return for allowing it to extend its missile range from 300 km to 800 km in a recent agreement.