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Missile Forces of the Republic of Korea

Missile Forces of the Republic of Korea

Decker Eveleth


Cite as:

Decker Eveleth. "Missile Forces of the Republic of Korea." A Boy and His Blog, June 16th 2021.


North Korea’s missile forces, for obvious reasons, have attracted quite a bit of attention, and analysts have spent a considerable amount of time scouring the North Korean countryside for even the smallest indication of an active military presence. South Korea has in the past escaped such public scrutiny, despite the growing importance of South Korea’s increasingly numerous and capable missile forces and that force’s effect on the peninsula’s stability. Given this, and given some recent bits of news related to ROK missile capabilities, I decided that it might be a good time to write up an ORBAT for South Korea’s missile forces.

This article is split into four sections: the first section is an explanation of South Korean strategy so the reader has an idea of the purpose and use cases for the South Korean missile arsenal. Second is a brief history of the South Korean surface-to-surface missile program, followed by a section that describes in a bit more detail the capabilities of each missile. Lastly we go into the ORBAT of the ROK’s Army Missile Command, detailing what ROK missile sites look like and their probable force strength.

South Korean Strategy

South Korea has developed what they used to call a “three-axis” strategy for dealing with the threat posed by North Korea: Strategic Target Strike (formally known as Kill Chain), Korea Missile Defense (KMD), and Overwhelming Response (formally known by the much more interesting title “Korea Massive Punishment and Retaliation” (KMPR)). The three plans work together to both deter North Korean aggression as well as limit the damage of an attack if war was to break out.

Strategic Target Strike is a left-of-launch strategy that seeks to destroy North Korean missiles before they can be launched. In the event that launch preparations are detected at North Korean missile bases, the ROK attacks those sites with surface-to-surface ballistic missiles and aircraft equipped with earth-penetrating weapons. These attacks would aim to destroy most or all of North Korea’s strategic forces. This strategy requires a robust surveillance capability due to how hard it might be to detect launch preparations and the mobility of existing North Korean ballistic missiles. The ROK has invested heavily in satellites and UAVs to detect North Korean activity as well as utilizing the United States' existing ISR capabilities.

Korea Missile Defense is tasked with destroying any missiles that survive the Strategic Target Strike. The ROK has widely deployed American-made Patriot missile defense systems and the domestically made KM-SAM medium-range surface-to-air missile as part of this defense strategy. The ROK is developing a longer-range surface-to-air missile called the L-SAM, which is expected to enter service soon. The United States deploys a battery of THAAD long-range surface-to-air missiles to a golf course in South Korea, but these are not directly tied into South Korean command and control.

Should war on the peninsula break out, the Overwhelming Response plan calls for massive retaliation against North Korean military and leadership targets. These decapitation strikes with precision weapons are meant not only as a threat to deter North Korean leadership but also to confuse North Korean command and control in the event of war. Overwhelming Response is sometimes confused with Strategic Target Strike, to the extent that some believe that the South Korean strategy is preemptive decapitation strikes, as opposed to retaliatory decapitation strikes.

To accomplish executing the three-axis strategy, the ROK has built up a small of surface-to-surface missiles capable of highly accurate and ground-penetrating strikes on hardened command and control nodes and missile bunkers. Currently, South Korea has around 60 launchers spread across five active combat missile units. This build-up has happened slowly due to South Korea's difficulty in collecting the tacit knowledge and infrastructure necessary to support such a force and its continued technological dependence on the United States. South Korea could not previously build the missiles they wanted to due to an agreement with the United States to restrict the range and payload of any South Korean surface-to-surface ballistic missile. This agreement has been revised several times since its inception in 1979 before finally being removed entirely by the Biden administration in 2021. The lifting of any restriction on South Korean missiles will allow the ROK to build and deploy longer-range missiles, allowing them not only to base missiles on ships and submarines at sea, but also to build missiles with ranges long enough to threaten other states in Asia, namely China.


Much of the following is based on Nicholas Seltzer’s excellent article about the early Korean missile program that appeared in The Nonproliferation Review and if you are at all interested in the South Korean missile program I encourage you to go read it yourself. I’ve added more recent history as well as more historical and technical documentation for the missiles in question.

Example of a Nike Hercules missile system. Note the rail to facilitate reloading.

South Korea’s initial missile development program was to make a missile heavily based on the American Nike Hercules missile. Intended primarily as a surface-to-air missile with a maximum range of 300 km, the Nike Hercules could also fulfill a surface-to-surface role with a range of 180 km or an anti-ballistic missile role to a range of 70 km. As with all surface-to-air missiles, interception range depends heavily on the altitude of the target. The Hercules had a rather unique visual appearance, with four first-stage motors to maximize acceleration and allow for a quick interception and a single larger second-stage motor. Hercules was capable of destroying targets with either a 625-pound conventional high-explosive or a W31 nuclear warhead. The W31 could have a 2, 20 or 40 kiloton yield depending on the version of the warhead. The Hercules had no inertial guidance system and instead relied on radio command guidance like most other surface-to-air missiles. During flight, the missile would communicate with a radar fire control system on the ground to find its target. The Hercules achieved a surface-to-surface capability by giving the missile a space reference point above the target and telling the missile to dive when it was over that point. With no onboard guidance, this instruction had to be relayed via the missile tracking radar. Because the missile received active guidance in this role, the Hercules was apparently surprisingly accurate as a surface-to-surface missile. Deployment began in 1958, and nuclear-capable Hercules missiles began to arrive in South Korea under U.S. Army control in 1961.

An Illustration of the Nike Hercules’ surface-to-surface capability. Sourced from MMS Subcourse 150, Nike Radars and Computers.

In 1971 U.S. troop reductions in South Korea and North Korean aggressive actions convinced then President of South Korea (and military dictator) Park Chung-hee that the need to modernize South Korea’s military was pressing. High on the shopping list was a domestic ballistic missile capable of striking high-priority targets in North Korea like Pyongyang, roughly 150 km north of the DMZ. Park wanted a 200 km range ballistic missile in five years, and in 1974 increased that requirement to 350 km. South Korean engineers working at the Agency for Defense Development (ADD), the ROK’s principal defense research and technology agency, thought this was an impossible task. The ROK did not have the industrial base or the technical knowledge to build and field a truly indigenous missile design, so instead ADD drew up a plan to build a missile based on an existing American design: the Nike Hercules. At this point, South Korea did not domestically operate the Hercules, and no one in the Korean Army was trained on how the system worked. The plan revolved around convincing the Americans to give them the technical knowledge and infrastructure they would need to domestically develop such a missile. A technical agreement between the US and the ROK was signed in 1971. A missile maintenance facility was built with US assistance in 1974, and the United States began training ROK Army personal on how to use the Nike Hercules in 1975. In 1977, U.S. Forces Korea began transferring Hercules battalions (without their nuclear warheads) over to newly established ROK units, and the next year South Korea tested the Hercules in its surface-to-surface mode for the first time.

President Park watching the first Baekgom test in September of 1978 with a refreshing cup of tea. Sourced from Yonhap.

As the ROK began to operationalize their newly acquired Hercules missiles, the program to develop a domestically produced long-range version of the Hercules was bearing fruit. The United States had, importantly, placed some stipulations on the range and payload capabilities of this new missile, which the South Koreans had named “Baekgom" (“white bear”). Baekgom is from the outside identical to a Nike Hercules, but used new domestically produced rocket engines and body parts. The United States designated this missile “Nike Hercules Korea 1” or NHK-1. The Baekgom would be restricted to a 180 km range and a maximum payload of 1,000 pounds (454 kilograms) in an agreement signed in 1979. Note that this surface-to-surface range limitation is identical to the expected performance of a Nike-Hercules in its surface-to-surface role, and the 1,000-pound payload stipulation was actually higher than the 625-pound conventional payload Hercules usually carried. It is also important to note that the Nike Hercules had a surface-to-surface range of 180 km because of the limitations of Nike’s radar, not because of limitations on the actual missile hardware. Beyond 200,000 yards (~183km) the missile tracking radar could not find the missile, and therefore could not relay the instruction for the missile to dive, so the 180 km range of Hercules actually refers to its guided range, theoretically having a much longer range unguided. Moving from radio command guidance to inertial guidance, as Baekgom's successor, the Hyunmoo-1 did, would remove that limitation. But for now, Baekgom was limited by the range of the command guidance radar, which ADD has essentially copied from Nike. The Baekgom had its first successful test flight in November of 1978.

A Baekgom missile on display along with a Lance missile. The Lance was deployed to Korea by the US Army but never operated by ROK Army units, so its display here with an ROK flag painted on the side is a little baffling.

A new missile called the Hyunmoo was tested in 1985. This missile was the first South Korean system to use an inertial guidance system. The U.S. designation for this missile is NHK-2. Very little information about this missile is publicly available (probably party because it was, until very recently, operational.) This missile swapped out the four smaller first-stage motors on the Baekgom for one larger solid motor. By the 1979 agreement, it was kept to a range of 180 km, but because this missile was no longer limited in range by the capabilities of the missile tracking radar, its real range was almost certainly more than 180 km. CSIS states that the range of Hyunmoo after minor modification was 250 km. CSIS sources cite other CSIS publications for this number, leading me to assume that this is an in-house CSIS range assessment, possibly based simply on the reasonable assumption that the ROK would not build missile bases incapable of reaching Pyongyang from their bases. South Korea began to build two Hyunmoo-1 missile sites 235 km away from Pyongyang in 1993, so assuming a range of 250 km or more is pretty reasonable. Hyunmoo’s maximum range was probably between 250 and 300 km. Site clearing at both locations is visible on historic Landsat imagery.

The 180 km range did not give the system much flexibility, and in order to hit critical targets the ROK Army would have needed to basically drive the missile right up to the DMZ. In addition, a 1978 CIA assessment mentioned that the South Koreans would also probably want to hit bridges and railroads on the Chinese border to prevent or slow the reinforcement or resupply of North Korean units.

A Hyunmoo-1 test. Note the single motor for the first stage.

The two Hyunmoo-1 bases, marked in blue, with the 180 km range and the 250 km probable range shown in red.

I have no data on the size of the ROK missile arsenal before 1993. I have not found where they based the Baekgom or in what quantity it was produced. CIA ORBATs of ROK forces from this period never mention their missile capabilities, which is possibly an indication that those forces were so small as to be negligible. It is also possible (remotely, in my opinion) that ROK Army units co-located Baekgom with Hercules units, but the structure of the ROK missile force and the position of Nike Hercules sites in Korea during this period doesn’t appear to support this. The CIA stated in 1978 that South Korea had no plans to put the Baekgom into production. After 1993 and until 2008, it appears these two bases composed the extent of the ROK’s dedicated short-range surface-to-surface missile arsenal. With only six launch sites at two bases and a limited number of reloads, the number of Hyunmoo missiles South Korea had access to at the time was almost certainly quite limited.

Missile designers show President Park some of the domestically produced parts with a Baekgom in the background.

Even with domestically produced motors and body parts, South Korea still relied on imports from the United States to make Baekgom and Hyumoo missiles. In 1989, the United States began making it harder for South Korea to import missile parts, probably to try to comply with the newly signed Missile Technology Control Regime of 1987. These parts were advanced avionics equipment, as such technology would have been very difficult for South Korea to domestically manufacture. This situation was resolved in 1990 with negotiations between the United States and South Korea and might explain why the number of Hyunmoo-1 launchers was so low. The ROK would have had to import a set of avionics for each missile, giving the United States direct control over the number of missiles South Korea could build.

However, even with the shipments of missile parts resuming, South Korea was still unhappy with the 180 km range limit and attempted to renegotiate started in 1995. After 20 rounds of talks spanning years, the United States agreed that the guidelines would be raised to 300 km if South Korea agreed to join the Missile Technology Control Regime, with South Korea did in 2001. It is unclear to what degree, in the six years from the construction of the two missile bases and deployment of the Hyunmoo-1 around 1995 to the signing of the MTCR, South Korea was actually in compliance with the 180 km range limitation.

In 2006, the battalions equipped with the Hyunmoo-1 missile were split off into their own command, Army Missile Command (AMC). New battalions equipped with a new SRBM and a new cruise missile were added to the force and deployed to AMC’s new headquarters in Eumseong at this time.

South Korean missile naming conventions, and the lack of information about them, have confused many sources. Some sources confuse the NHK-1, NHK-2, and Hyunmoo-2. Sometimes sources will tell you that NHK-1 is the designation for Hyunmoo, sometimes sources will tell you that Hyunmoo-2 is the NHK-2 or a modification of it.

I want to be totally clear that Baekgom is NHK-1, Hyunmoo-1 is NHK-2, and Hyunmoo-2, a missile not based on Nike-Hercules, does not have an NHK designation.

Nike Hercules and Hyunmoo Sites

Nike Hercules sites are particularly easy to spot from the air due to their unique reloading method and their dependence on an associated radar site. A Nike battery was divided into launching sections, with each launch section having a maximum of four launchers arraigned along a rail that facilitates missile loading. Nike command and control systems could accommodate a total of four launch sections for a total of sixteen launchers. Some Nike sites, particularly those built in the United States, contain at least one launcher that sits on an elevator connecting it to an underground reloading bay. This makes the launcher very difficult to destroy and hardens the battery’s magazine. Some Nike sites place the loading rail between two hangers so that missiles can be rolled into cover for maintenance and storage.

An example of an ROK Nike Hercules battery, this one located in Incheon until 2005.

Each Nike Hercules battery relies on a set of radar hosted at a nearby site, called the Integrated Fire Control (IFC) area. The IFC contained five different radars: The High Power Acquisition Radar (HIPAR), Low Power Acquisition Radar (LOPAR) handle acquiring incoming at longer ranges. Once acquired, their range and azimuth is passed to the Target Tracking Radar (TTR) and Target Ranging Radar (TRR), which provide precise positional data for the target, and pass it to Nike’s computer systems. Once a Nike missile is fired at the target, the Missile Tracking Radar (MTR) begins to provide Nike, via a series of antennas mounted to the back of the Nike Hercules second stage fins, guidance instructions on how to reach the target. In mountainous Korea, IFC stations are usually built on the top of hills near the Nike battery itself.

South Korean Nike sites do not appear to have ever reached the maximum of sixteen launchers, instead using a layout of three launch sections each equipped with three launchers. South Korean Nike sites also did not use launchers equipped with elevators, and instead the ROK Army appears to have adopted the standard procedure of simply leaving two or three reloads on the rail between the launchers, allowing for quick reloading.

One of the ROK’s two former Hyunmoo-1 bases. Launchers are visible on the two upper launch positions.

Hyunmoo, on the other hand, ditched the stationary rail-based launcher method for a truck and trailer-based mobile launcher. Hyunmoo missile sites are essentially roll-out-to-launch. The missile is mounted to a road-mobile launcher that is towed by the truck out of a bunker into a firing pad immediately outside. Each missile site had three firing positions. Once one was fired, a reload carrying trailer, also towed by a truck, would come out of the bunker and reload the launcher using a crane. The Hyunmoo-1, as of January 2021, is now retired as no suitable sites exist. Both Hyunmoo-1 bases have been or are being modernized to accommodate the Hyunmoo-2 SRBM. It is still possible that some number of launchers and missiles are being stored in reserve.

The ROK began to phase out the Nike Hercules and replace them with second-hand Patriot PAC-2 missile acquired from Germany in 2008, after a lengthy bureaucratic delay (see Pollack’s “Ballistic Missile Defense in South Korea: Separate Systems Against a Common Threat” for more on that) and the last Nike battery was finally deactivated in early 2014.

A bunker and firing pad at a roll-out-to-launch position. Several Hyunmoo-1 missiles are visible on the pad.

A Hyunmoo-1 test from ADD's test facility in Taean. The launcher and reload truck are visible.

An erected Hyunmoo-1 at one of the newly built missile bases, sometime in the 1990s.

Modern ROK Missiles

The ROK began deploying more mobile modern SRBMs beginning in 2008, although they have done so very slowly. A short-range ballistic missile and a cruise missile were deployed in the late 2000s, and from there the ROK has expanded its arsenal with longer and much more accurate range missiles. According to a recent ROK Defense White Paper, the total number of launchers is currently approximately 60.

A Hyunmoo-2 canister attached to the standard TEL for the Hyunmoo-2 and 3.

The Hyunmoo-2 is a solid-fueled, single-stage short-range ballistic missile. The system has three different variants: the 2A, 2B, and 2C. The Hyunmoo-2A was first deployed in 2008 and was by the range restriction agreement capped at 300 km. The physical appearance of the missile has generated some speculation, as it is similar to the Russian Iskander SRBM and the Ukrainian Grom. Given that there is precedent for Russian-South Korean defense cooperation, it is possible that the Hyunmoo-2 was developed with Russian assistance. However, there is no solid evidence of this. It is possible that it looks similar to an Iskander simply because it is an efficient design for an SRBM. The deployment of the Hyunmoo-2A was followed by the deployment of the Hyunmoo-2B in 2009. It is unclear if the Hyunmoo-2A is still in service or if ROK Army Missile Command has completely replaced it with the Hyunmoo-2B.

In 2012, the US-ROK ballistic missile guidelines were again loosened, this time raising the maximum range of ROK missiles from 300 km to 800 km. After this, the range of the Hyunmoo-2B was raised to 500 km. It is notable in the history of South Korean missile development that such revisions to the guidelines seem to repeatedly occur within a couple of years after the ROK has deployed a new system.

The Hyunmoo-2 is much more mobile than the towed Hyunmoo-1. The missile is hot-launched out of a canister mounted to a six-wheeled transporter-erector-launcher (TEL). This allows the Hyunmoo-2 to access a much wider variety of launch sites than the Hyunmoo-1, enhancing its survivability. Interestingly, the Hyunmoo-2 does not have what I would call a conventional firing table for the missile to rest on and divert flames away from the rest of the vehicle. Instead, the TEL uses a large metal flap that swings down to protect the rear tires from the rocket’s exhaust.

The Hyunmoo-2C’s five-axle launcher.

The Hyunmoo-2C, an extended range version of the Hyunmoo-2, was publicly unveiled in September of 2017. This missile uses a substantially bigger canister and rests on a larger ten-wheeled TEL. It is also, unlike previous versions, an aeroballistic missile, as the warhead has control surfaces allowing it to maneuver during the descent. The missile is usually described as having a range of 800 km, but now that range restrictions have been entirely lifted, it is possible that the missile is capable of launching further than that.

The Hyunmoo-2C during a test. Note the fins on the warhead section.

Pre-2017 the Hyunmoo-2 did not appear to be deployed in large numbers. Only one location in Eumseong was equipped with the missile during this period. Now that the former Hyunmoo-1 bases have been modernized, the AMC appears to be comfortable moving their forces up closer to the DMZ and in larger quantities, while the longer-range Hyunmoo-2C appears to be being deployed farther back to in the area of Sacheon.

Two Hyunmoo-3 cruise missile canisters on the standard TEL for the Hyunmoo-2 and 3.

The ROK has also developed a cruise missile, the Hyunmoo-3, that has several variants. As cruise missiles were not covered by the US-ROK range restrictions, they could achieve ranges that the ballistic missile arsenal never could. A 3A version with a 500 km range was reportedly deployed in 2006, with a 3B coming in 2009. Judging from infrastructure, it is probable that neither of these versions of the Hyunmoo-3 was deployed in large numbers as South Korea still only had one base capable of hosting them. In 2012 it was announced by the ROK Army that they had begun deployment of a cruise missile with a range in excess of 1,000 km capable of striking anywhere in North Korea, the Hyunmoo-3C. A new base in southern South Korea in the area of Sacheon was built in 2013 to accommodate this missile. This base was expanded in 2017, probably to add an additional unit comprised of the Hyunmoo-2C. In 2015, the AMC deployed a second battalion of Hyunmoo-3Cs to an area north of Jinju.

Hyunmoo-2s, 2Cs, and 3s in the same photo.

Several additional missiles appear to be in development. A Hyunmoo-4 is reportedly in development and was tested in March of 2020. While still capped at 800 km at time of testing, Trump had dropped the Payload limit from the missile guidelines, allowing the Hyunmoo-4 to carry a heavier 2,000 pound warhead, double what the Hyunmoo-2 was designed for. Now that Biden lifted the range restrictions entirely, the Hyunmoo-4 might turn out to be a much larger missile than any other in South Korea’s current arsenal, capable of throwing large payloads to great distances. This would no doubt be the cause of some anxiety in Beijing. South Korea also recently tested a submarine-launched ballistic missile, making them no longer dependent on easily identifiable land bases.

Previously there has been some speculation over where the ROK tactical missile arsenal, including the K239 Chunmoo rocket artillery system, the US made MGM-140 ATACMS, and the future Korea Tactical Surface-to-Surface Missile (KTSSM), was based. All of these systems do not appear to be in the Army Missile Command’s arsenal, and are instead with regular ROK army units.

Modern Army Missile Command Order of Battle

Army Missile Command is divided into a headquarters unit (Unit 9715) based in Wonju as of 2019 and five combat missile units. Unit 6508 in Yangpyeong and Unit 8368 in Cheongun are both in northern South Korea at the Hyunmoo-1 sites I previously talked about. 6508 finished modernization to a Hyunmoo-2 site in 2017, while 8368 is currently under construction. Three other units are stationed in southern South Korea: Unit 3718 in Sacheon, a large unit that appears to mix the Hyunmoo-2C and 3, Unit 8611 in Micheon, a Hyunmoo-3 unit, and Unit 1615 in Sunchang. While I have noted visible armaments at some of these bases, it is always possible that these units operate a mix of missile systems. The 2018 ROK Defense White Paper stated that the ROK had 60 “ground to ground guided weapons” in its arsenal.

Locations of ROK missile bases.

Army Missile Command moved from Eumseong, previously the site of South Korea’s first Hyunmoo-2/3 unit, to the former campus of the ROK Army 1st Command in Wonju in 2019. I have no current unit number for Eumseong, and the base appears to be under construction. It is probable that this base will contain a new unit sometime in the future.

The missile bases themselves are very interesting. With the exception of Eumseong, all bases are built in valleys surrounded by tall hills to complicate the targeting of enemy missiles. All missile bases have on-site air defense, usually with two or three Chunma K-SAM short-range surface-to-air missile systems. Chunmas are domestically produced copies of the French Crotale missile, which has a range of around 10 km. The bases are hardened, containing multiple bunkers to not only protect the assets from enemy strikes, but also to safely contain the missiles stored on site. Each site usually has three bunkers and three launch sites. At Sunchang, they have upgraded the pads with covers that unfold from the wall of the base, possibly for environmental protection, for counterintelligence, or both. A fourth bunker with an entrance and an exit allowing a TEL to drive through it probably serves as a missile storage and loading facility.

Sacheon Missile Base, by far the largest missile unit in the AMC. One of the air defense emplacements is visible at the far left.

It appears that missile units, especially missile units in the south, are in the habit of leaving launchers erected at regular intervals on the firing positions. This is reflective of the rapid-reaction posture of Army Missile Command. As a preemptive force, the launchers have to be ready to fire on very short notice. This explains the choice to co-locate the unit’s base with some of its firing positions. These forces are also very mobile however, and the AMC could always disperse their units in time of crisis. As these missiles are capable of using GPS, they would be able to launch from almost anywhere and no longer need to rely solely on launching from preprepared positions. The three launch pads at each base does not give an accurate representation of their capabilities, as the ROK Army has almost certainly surveyed a number of secondary sites from which to launch missiles in the event that Army Missile Command orders the missile force to disperse.

A launcher equipped with the Hyunmoo-3 at an Army Missile Command base, with one of the bunkers visible in the background.

Hyunmoo-3 launchers at Jinju missile base.

Stability on the Peninsula

South Korea’s missile force is rather small, but has positioned itself to respond and destroy North Korean military and leadership targets as quickly as possible. Combined with the ROK and US air force, North Korea is faced with a challenge to the survivability of their nuclear and conventional missile forces. This ongoing race between survivability, missile defense, and conventional precision strike capabilities will and has incentivized North Korea to expand and diversity its existing conventional and nuclear missile strike forces. This balance will grow more unstable as North Korea continues to improve its own precise strike capabilities. The DPRK will probably never achieve the same level of success that the South Koreans might with conventional precision strikes due to their lack of ISR capabilities, but fixed facilities in South Korea would be obvious targets. Airbases as well as the missile bases we have talked about here could be destroyed with conventional means alone.

It should also be considered that South Korean conventional capabilities might give South Korea a means to retaliate against lower-level North Korean provocations. Former president of South Korea Lee Myung-bak had attempted to order a retaliation against the North Korean bombardment of islands controlled by South Korea in 2010. Earlier that year, an ROK Navy corvette had been sunk with all signs towards a North Korean torpedo as the culprit. Many in the ROK military and government promised retribution, but none came, as the United States made the South Koreans back down. There is no guarantee that, given another provocation by the North, that South Korea would not try to retaliate in the future, and the ROK’s missile arsenal is the perfect tool to do just that. And now that North Korea has its own conventional precise strike capability, instead of artillery duels, we could see missile duels as DPRK and ROK units retaliate for previous missile strikes. It would be difficult to contain escalation in such a crisis. The greater stability of East Asia will be affected by further improvements to South Korea’s missile capabilities. Beijing will no doubt have some concerns as South Korea deploys missiles with longer ranges.

Advances in precision conventional capabilities on the Korean peninsula will continue to degrade the survivability of the opposing state’s forces. North Korea’s nuclear ballistic missile arsenal presents an immense challenge for South Korea, and their efforts to develop a force capable of both deterring North Korea and eliminating hostile missile forces on the ground will require them to continue expanding their current force with new launchers. North Korea’s acquisition of its own conventional strike capability complicates South Korean efforts and is already forcing South Korea to diversity its launch options. We should expect to see continued expansion of land, sea, and air conventional strike options from South Korea, and we should continue to expect this to lead North Korea to unveil additional conventional systems of their own.

Work Cited

Technical information related to the Nike Hercules system was pulled from the manual collection available at

Bowers, Ian, and Hiim; Henrik Stålhane. Conventional Counterforce Dilemmas: South Korea's Deterrence Strategy and Stability on the Korean Peninsula. International Security 2021; 45 (3): 7–39.

Missile Defense Project, "Missiles of South Korea," Missile Threat, Center for Strategic and International Studies, June 14, 2018, last modified July 30, 2020,

“NIE 42/14.2-87: The Korean Military Balance and Prospects for Hostilities on the Peninsula.” Central Intelligence Agency, 1987.

"South Korea: Nuclear Developments and Strategic Decision Making." Central Intelligence Agency, National Foreign Assessment Center, 1978.

Hans M. Kristensen & Robert S. Norris (2017) A History of US Nuclear Weapons in South Korea, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, 73:6, 349-357, DOI:10.1080/00963402.2017.1388656

Hayes, Peter. "International Missile Trade and the Two Koreas." (1993). The Korean Journal of Defense Analysis.

Panda, Ankit. "Report: South Korea Tested Hyunmoo-4 Ballistic Missile." (2020). The Diplomat.

Pinkston, Daniel. "The New South Korean Missile Guidelines and Future Prospects for Regional Instability." (2012). International Crisis Group.

Pollack, Joshua H. “Ballistic Missile Defense in South Korea: Separate Systems Against a Common Threat.” (2017).

Seltzer, Nicolas. (2019) Baekgom: the development of South Korea’s first ballistic missile, The Nonproliferation Review, 26:3-4, 289-327, DOI: 10.1080/10736700.2019.1659541

Recommended Reading

Lewis, Jeffrey. The 2020 Commission Report on the North Korean Nuclear Attacks Against the United States. Mariner Books, 2018.

1 Comment

Jul 20, 2021

A very nice overview of the history and force structure.

And the designations are definitely confusing, especially with the SLBM and etc. (the SLBM is supposedly the Hyumoo-4-4, and the rumored hypersonic glide vehicle equipped missile the Hyumoo-4-3). Can't vouch for the source, but the new naming convention was mentioned here: 한국형 탄도미사일 개발사 발간 & 신기술! : 네이버 블로그 (

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