South Korea launched a long-range surface-to-air missile on Wednesday, according to Yonhap news agency, a month after North Korea tested a record number of more powerful missiles potentially capable of eluding South Korean defenses.
According to Yonhap, citing unknown sources, an L-SAM was successfully launched from a testing location in Taean, 150 kilometers (90 miles) southwest of Seoul. The Ministry of Defense refused to comment on the report.
International tension has been rising over a recent series of North Korean ballistic missile tests. January was a record month for such tests, with at least seven launches, including a new type of “hypersonic missile” able to manoeuvre at high speed, making it potentially difficult to intercept.
The L-SAM is a “cutting-edge indigenous weapon system” currently under development to defend against missiles or other high-flying threats, according to South Korea’s Agency for Defense Development.
Plans call for it to target incoming missiles at altitudes of around 50-60 kilometers (30-37 miles), and it is due to become operational by 2026. Yonhap said Wednesday’s test raised the prospect that its deployment could be accelerated.
The L-SAM is designed to be part of a “layered defense network” that already includes U.S.-made Patriot Advanced Capability-3 missiles and locally produced Cheongung II KM-SAM medium-range weapons, capable of intercepting targets at varying altitudes and ranges.
South Korea also hosts U.S. military THAAD anti-missile batteries. The leading conservative candidate in next month’s presidential election has vowed to purchase a THAAD interceptor battery to deploy nearer to Seoul, even if it brings retaliation from China, which has complained that the equipment’s powerful radar could penetrate its territory.
Seoul plans to produce a $2.6 billion artillery interception system, similar to Israel’s “Iron Dome”, designed to protect against North Korea’s arsenal of long-range guns and rockets.
Seoul is looking as well into exporting some of its latest missile interceptors. It inked its largest defense sale ever in January with the export of KM-SAM to the United Arab Emirates in a deal valued at around $3.5 billion.