Air Weapons: South Korea Gets More Stealth

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February 9, 2017: South Korea has decided to acquire 90 more Taurus KEPD 350K stealthy air-to-surface cruise missiles. This was apparently triggered by North Korea's recent (fifth) nuclear test followed by more test-firings of ballistic missiles. The additional Taurus missiles will join the 170 ordered in 2013. These began arriving in late 2016. Taurus gave South Korea a long range bunker-busting missile to deal with North Korean underground nuclear installations. Although South Korea also has about 40 SLAM-ER cruise missiles with the range about 200 kilometers they wanted to acquire something with longer range and more penetration capabilities. At first South Korea was willing to purchase the JASSM cruise missiles from the Americans but the Pentagon delayed approved sales of this missile to South Korea. As the result they have begun looking elsewhere for something similar. After analyzing other options the South Korea decision makers have chosen a European Taurus despite the extra time and expense of modifying their American made F-15K strike fighters to handle this new weapon.

Taurus was developed by German and Swedish firms and entered service in 2005. It is a 1.4 ton cruise missile that has a range of over 500 kilometers and a cruising speed of about 1,100 kilometers an hour. It travels at low altitude (35 meters/112 feet). Taurus uses a half ton (481 kg) warhead that has special features for penetrating well protected underground bunkers. Taurus costs about $1.2 million each. Taurus is also used by Germany and Spain on Tornado and EF-18 fighters and fire control systems modifications are being created so Taurus can operate from Typhoon and Gripen fighters as well. Work on modifying South Korean F-15K to use Taurus are to be completed by mid-2017.

Taurus uses multiple guidance systems. The basic GPS is backed up by jam-proof INS. There is also a very accurate Terrain Reference Navigation, Image Based Navigation system but that requires the right “digital map” to work properly. These three systems are aided by a thermal imaging seeker used when the target close. This terminal homing seeker ensures great accuracy (less than 3 meters).

The warhead is a dual stage system called MEPHISTO (Multi-Effect Penetrator, Highly Sophisticated and Target Optimised). It combines excellent penetration capabilities for hard and deep buried targets (penetration of up to 6 meters of concreate) as well as blast and fragmentation capabilities against high-value point and area targets.

It should be noted that for now the deal details were not disclosed. It seems that South Koreans are satisfied with missile performance and decided to acquire more because the Germans could deliver quickly in the face of escalating North Korean threats. -- Przemysław Juraszek

 


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