South Korea wants to outfit its destroyers with new US missile defenses amid tensions with North Korea

South Korea’s Yonhap news agency recently reported that the country may seek to buy Raytheon SM-3 ballistic defense missiles from the US as tensions rise with North Korea and in the broader Pacific region.

Related: What you need to know about North Korean threats

The missiles, if acquired, would replace the SM-2 missiles currently fielded by South Korea’s Aegis destroyers and improve their range from about 100 miles to more than 300 miles, significantly extending their layers of missile defense.

ROKS Sejong the Great, South Korea's Aegis-equipped ship, during the 2008 Busan International Fleet Review. | US Navy photo

ROKS Sejong the Great, South Korea’s Aegis-equipped ship, during the 2008 Busan International Fleet Review. | US Navy photo

The move to acquire better missile defenses comes after North Korea launched two “No Dong” intermediate-range ballistic missiles, one of which landed near the Sea of Japan.

The South Korean Navy plans to build three more Sejong the Great-class guided missile destroyers that use the same radar and launch system as the US Navy’s Arleigh Burke-class BMD guided missile destroyers, the US Naval Institute reports. As the current ships cannot accommodate the SM-3 missiles, the newer ships may be modified for their use.

The SM-3 missiles would leverage the South Korean Navy’s powerful radar to accurately and reliably destroy incoming ballistic missiles while they’re still in space, and safely distant from targets on the surface.

The Naval Institute also notes that the news of South Korea’s SM-3 deliberation was met with immediate and harsh rebuke from a Chinese state-run news agency: “It is unmistakably a strategic misjudgment for Seoul to violate the core interests of its two strong neighbors, at the cost of its own security, and only in the interests of American hegemony.”

The State Department would not confirm the possible foreign military sale, but a single SM-3 missile costs at least $9 million, according to the US Department of Defense Fiscal Year 2015 Budget Request.

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