Air Defense: K-SAAM Overcomes


December 4, 2018: South Korea has, since 2011, been developing K-SAAM (Korean Surface-to-Air Anti-Missile) as an improved replacement for existing U.S. built RAM (Rolling Air Frame) missiles. K-SAAM was to be ready by 2016 but it failed its first acceptance tests (two of five missiles failed to hit the target). Revisions were made and tests again conducted in 2017. K-SAAM hit nine of ten test targets but when details of the tests were released a number of qualified critics pointed out that the test parameters did not include the latest Chinese and Russian anti-ship missiles and further guidance system revisions and tests were needed. There were also problems with the target acquisition radar which misidentified incoming anti-ship missiles fired from mountainous coastal locations.

Meanwhile, the American RIM-116 (RAM) anti-missile missile systems are already installed on many existing U.S., Japanese and South Korean warships. The RAM itself is German, but the radar and fire control is often the same found in the U.S. Phalanx anti-missile system, with RAMs replacing the 20mm cannon. The Phalanx was developed in the 1970s and entered service in 1977. RAM was developed in the 1980s and didn't enter service until 1993. RAM has a longer range (7.5 kilometers) than the Phalanx 20mm autocannon (two kilometers) and was originally designed to be aimed using the ships fire control systems. Phalanx, on the other hand, has its own radar and fire control system and, once turned on, will automatically fire at any incoming missiles. This was necessary, as some anti-ship missiles travel at over a 500 meters a second. RAM-based systems have eleven or 21 missiles ready to fire and can engage several targets at once, something the original (20mm cannon) Phalanx could not do. The RAM missiles are 127mm in diameter, 2.8 meters (9.3 feet) long and weigh 73.5 kg (162 pounds) each. The terminal guidance system is heat seeking. Basically, it uses the rocket motor and warhead from the Sidewinder air-to-air missile, and the guidance system from the Stinger shoulder fired anti-aircraft missile. SeaRAM missiles cost about $450,000 each. RAM can use either a Phalanx fire control system, or any other system that can detect incoming missiles quickly enough. Over a hundred warships (mostly German and American) already use RAM-based anti-missile systems. The missiles are stored and fired from cells in box arrays holding 11 or 21 missiles.

K-SAAM missiles are 3.07 meters (9.8 feet) long was designed to have a superior guidance system with a radar and heat-seeker used to home in on the incoming missile. K-SAAM can also be fired from four cell vertical launchers that some ships will have several of. K-SAAM is scheduled to be installed on new frigates and a 14,000 ton amphibious ship launched in May. RAM has been continually upgraded and tested dealing with more effective anti-ship missiles and critics of K-SAAM are demanding that the new South Korean realistically match that.

The government run Agency for Defense Development (ADD) that has created K-SAAM insists the system is now on schedule to enter service in time to be installed in several new ships in place of SeaRam. K-SAAM will eventually replace SeaRAM already installed in South Korean ships when those ships undergo their periodic refurbishment.




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