December 8, 2016

South Korea's future nuclear missile response to North Korea

As South Korea is contemplating nuclear weapons might Israel assist it by developing the solid-fuel rocketsuper or hypersonic, Popeye Turbo "cruise" missile for ROK horizontal torpedo tube submarine use?

With varying amounts of publicity South Korea-Republic of Korea (ROK) has been considering developing its own nuclear weapons capability since 1970. The main determinant appears to be ROK's confidence, or lack of confidence, that the US will continue to extend nuclear deterrence in ROK’s favour. An ROK capability may take one to three years to develop.

Events or trends driving current ROK thinking include:

-  North Korea’s (NK’s) continuing ballistic missile, SLBM and nuclear tests and threats to use 
   them against ROK
-  Since early 2016 Trump’s "abandon ROK" and "ROK develop its own nuclear capability"
-  Since October 2016 the possibility North Korea will exploit instability caused by the impeachment of President Park Geun-hye. ROK is now ruled by temporary President Hwang Kyo-ahn.
-  Will Hwang Kyo-ahn have different attitudes to nuclear options? 

Regarding Trump, playing on the minds of ROK’s leaders is the 1949 removal of US protection which quickly led to the NK invasion of 1949. If Trump becomes aware of history he may need to be told that the US very quickly and expensively needed to return to the Korean Peninsula in 1949 to defend ROK and indirectly Japan against NK as well as Chinese (and less acknowledged) Soviet Russian aggression.

Due to the grim strategic threats against ROK it is following hedging policies to reduce the chance of North Korean attack. Policies include:

-  Maintain a relatively high defence budget of 2.6% GDP - partly to signal ROK resolve to the US.
-  Deploying conventional military equipment (including land and sea based ABM/BMD systems).
   But note BMD systems are less effective against future NK SLBMs because the launch points and
   trajectories of SLBMs or even cruise missiles (SLCMs) are less known in a BMD database.
plans to develop and deploy nuclear weapons and much later nuclear propulsion.

This activity or potential is partly aimed at ensuring US conventional and nuclear extended deterrence against North Korea remains.

If ROK saw nuclear propelled submarines as a way of destroying NK or Chinese SSBNs ROK would need to spend a great amount of money over a long period.

Judging by Indian and French nuclear submarine programs nuclear propulsion may take, 10 to 15, years to develop. Also see Note 3 in a Wikipedia article.


If an ROK project is for an SSBN then extra years may be required to develop a vertical launch ballistic missile system. France, with experience in 2,000 to 5,000 tonne nuclear submarines may be the most likely source of reactor and submarine hull assistance.

Also France may be able to assist ROK in upgrading the Hyunmoo ballistic missile to SLBM status. This is noting France assisted Israel in developing the Jericho series of (very obviously) nuclear tipped missiles. 


Another option is for Israel to assist ROK by developing the solid-fuel rocket propelled, supersonic or hypersonic, Popeye Turbo "cruise" missile for ROK's horizontal torpedo tube submarine use? 

Germany's TKMS, designed the Type 209s and 214 conventional subs that ROK has been assembling. TKMS may then be a likely supplier of ROKs "indigenous" 3,000+ tonne KSS-III design. This design may be very similar to a stretched Dolphin 2 or future Dolphin 3 design. Dolphin submarines have the advantage of using 4 650mm torpedo tubes that are specifically designed for the above mentioned Popeye Turbo missiles.



Anonymous said...

Hi Pete,

While ROK is not Taiwan, I'll think the PRC/Russia will not be please having a midsized nuclear-armed, but very prosperous power right at their doorstep.

IMHO there will be backlash against France/Isreal if they provided asistance for ROK.

France needs Russia to solve the Ukrainian/Syrian mess. The blooming cooperation between Iran and China/Russia are a headache enough for Isreal. The Saudis already brought conventional-tipped S/MRBM from China.

IMHO ROK has enough human- & financial capital and a large-enough industrial-base to develop nuclear propulsion & arms on its' own.

But after a peaceful collapse of DPRK and successful takeover by ROK, social costs and subsidies & investment for the poor Northerners won't leave much room for nuclear arms-program. We can expect that China/Russia to demand nuclear disarmenent as a condition for their coop.

But with so many uncalculable aspects of renewed hostilities on the penisula, I'll think everyone is fine with the status-quo. No need to change anything.

I personally think that the DPRK's leadership isn't that "mad". It's probably just intends to prevent the neighbours from trying to pull a regime-change and squeeze out enough resources for the regime's survival. Just survive - not more.

Team Eurowussies

Peter Coates said...

Hi Team Eurowussies

I agree that ROKs neighbours would not want to see a nuclear armed ROK.

For ROK so much will depend on Team Trump continuing to defend ROK. From Trump's latest reference to China not reining in North Korea this may be an indicator of continuing support for ROK (thereby maintaining the status quo)
- see .

So I think no French input into ballistic missiles or nuclear propulsion need come into it.

Its more likely that ROK will rely on continuing supply of GERMAN TKMS submarine designs. The next one I expect to go the typical enlargement route. So from 209, 214 to Dolphin 2 (or future 3,000 tonne Dolphin 3). If 650mm torpedo tubes are included in that Dolphin 2 or 3 design then that would give a future option (even if in 15 years time) of a large nuclear tipped cruise missile.

Just the current German supplier for the sub and Israel (regularly prepared to go against world opinion) for the Popeye TurboROK cruise missile.



Anonymous said...

As expected, ROK President PGH was impeached. For the Presidential election next year in ROK, the leader of the Democratic party who is currently leading in the polls favors a rapprochement with China. I wonder if China has a hand in divulging the scandal or not, given they were not very pleased with the decision on THAAD. China curtails Chinese tourism to ROK and blocked some K-pop performances, just to name a few after THAAD.
I wonder if the sharing of intelligence between ROK and Japan that started under PGH will suffer negatively going forward.

Peter Coates said...


So much is unknown about the changing political conditions in ROK, eg:

- what changes might temporary President cause?

- impeached Pres Park Geun-hye was present at China's main national parade a while back

- Trump's negative influence and the less conservative ROK Democratic Party,_2015) may indeed cause closer relation with China

- hard to know about THAAD as N Korea's missile threat would be a concern under any ROK Government

Yes Japan may be less willing to share highly secret intel with ROK during this time of high ROK instability.


Anonymous said...

I am not sure if ROK will need France assistance to further develop its Hyunmoo II SRBM. Hyunmoo II is already a solid booster single stage rocket. The 2b variant already reaches 800km with a 1 ton warhead. Reducing the warhead to 500kg will likely boost range significantly (as in the case of the Indian Agni). ROK can even redesign Hyunmoo II to a lighter weight composite fiber body to boost range or just make a longer booster. I suspect ROK already has the capabilities to design 2 stage rockets if they want to. So far Hyunmoo II range is restricted because of US pressure. ROK has acquired cold launched technology from the Russians' S-400 SAM and that can be adapted to SLBM applications.
Hyunmoo II guidance is only INS/GPS so potentially better guidance can be bought from France or India. India puts a ring laser gyro INS coupled with GPS and radar mapping on its Agni. Given ROK's prowess with microelectronics, I would not be surprised they already have those capabilities.

Peter Coates said...

Hi KQN [14/12/16 8:34 AM]

All looks reasonable. The ROK would indeed be better placed to keep on developing its indigenous Hyunmoo series rather than rely on outsiders (France, Israel OR the US). Some Russian technical assistance is different in that geography allows Russia to strategically lean on neigbouring NK and even on China. So Russia is a useful ally for ROK to have.

Even if ROK don't have a long range, hit-all-of-NK, Hyunmoo actually assembled, US vacillation over protecting ROK forever likely means ROK aims to be ready to put together full range Hyunmoos very quickly. In less than a year's leadtime, if necessary. A nuclear warhead may take 3 years.

Against the ballistic missile armed NKs the ROK probably is relying heavily on a full range ballistic counter - meaning reports of reliance on a subsonic jet cruise missiles is likely just a cover for Western/US consumption.



Anonymous said...

As you pointed out, THAAD is already the first victim of the PGH's administration demise. The opposition party is already demanding that THAAD deployment be delayed until a new government can decide (which means NO). That is not a surprise to any one studying Korea's history. There was a lot of deference to China through multiple dynasties, and throughout history China always pitted different Korean factions against each other just as NK and ROK today.

Peter Coates said...

Hi KQN [at 16/12/16 8:27 AM]

Yes it was highly significant that ROK President Park Geun-hye (PGH) attended China's 2015 Victory Parade even with a representative from NK present.

So ROK values its relationship with China even if it runs counter to expected Western solidarity.

THAAD might be limited or sacrificed to maintain relations with China. In any case SM-3 missiles on ROK Aegis cruisers are less politically confrontational.

Also I think an ROK nuclear capability that promises MAD with NK may be ROK's ultimate measure - if Trump keeps on vacillating.