ROK’s "Chonma"
Surface-to-Air Missile

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Columnist Col (Retd) EAS BOKHARI writes about the development and testing of a short-range SAM missile code named 'Chonma'

The South Korean Agency for Defence Development has recently announced the development and testing of a short-range Surface-to-Air (SAM) missile code named 'Chonma' or Pegasus (Winged Horse). This will be deployed by the South Korean Forces in selected military bases around the capital area. The deployment might have already started.

Hithertofore the ROK defence forces did not have a real state of the art SAM - and they were equipped with Javelins, Redeye, Stinger Minstral, SA-16, Hawk and Nike Hercules - besides conventional anti-aircraft guns - for the purpose of air defence.

Like Japan - South Korea depends a lot on the US - ROK military cooperation as would be seen from the nomenclature of the above equipment - and the others held by South Korea. And then again there are the restrictions imposed by the MTCR (Missile Technology Control Regime) - as a measure of arms control - and where there is adequate US influence - a missile with a range of over 300 Kilometers (Km) and warhead of more than 500 Kilograms cannot be manufactured. These laid down restrictions have been flouted by many countries and openly too. The Indian case of 'Agni' - and 'Surya' can be cited as a case in point.

The Koreans do not seem to have crossed the laid down limits as would be apparent in the paragraphs that follow. The new missile is the handiwork of the Agency for Defence Development (ADD) which was established in August 1970 and can be rightly proud of the following landmarks:

  • April 1972. Started work on Ground Weapon System Development. February 1974. - Missile System Development.
  • May 1976. Naval and Underwater Weapons System Development.
  • January 1988. Aircraft Systems Development. The HQ of this out fit moved to Taejon in January 1983.

With the burgeoning North Korean Air Forces (six air divisions) consisting of some 840 tactical aircraft, 510 support aircraft and 290 helicopters and unpredictable North Korean military posture - Japanese and South Korean humanitarian assistance notwithstanding - the South Korean must fend themselves against North Korean air attacks. North Korea has last year stunned the Japanese, Chinese and the rest of the world with the launching of a medium range ballistic missile - and there are strong suspicions that the North Koreans may have achieved nuclear capability.

According to a report the Chonma system '... consists of eight missiles mounted on a caterpillar vehicle and is designed to protect major military and government facilities in and around cities from low-flying enemy attacks...' Some of the better known credentials of the missile are discussed in the paragraphs that follow:

The missiles are loaded on a vehicle containing the radar guidance and fire control systems (supplied by the famous French - Thomson - CSF) - and possess allweather capabilities. The system is particularly suitable for mountainous topography - and the radar can track four independent targets from a distance of 20 Km. The missile uses smokeless propellant to reduce visual detection.

As indicated above the missile can track four targets at the same time - and can engage the targets within 10 seconds of detection. The missile has a maximum speed of 60 kilometres per hour - and can operate in waters 1 meter deep too.

The development work on the missile started in 1987 - and the first test fire took place in 1997 - and was a roaring success. The price per copy (current) is 15 billion won for the entire system - and each missile costs 280 million won i.e. nearly US $ 239,726.

The system is the result of joint effort of thirteen domestic and foreign defence contractors - including the famous Samsung Electronics who were involved in the development of the missile. Perhaps the only foreign contractor involved as indicated earlier in the presentation is the French Thomson-CSF who are experts in sensor and firing system technologies.

According to ADD officials '... 'Chonma' will strengthen air defence capability around five Km in altitude. Exporting the missile could be a distinct possibility...' According to the Newsreview of South Korea of 20 November 1999...' The development of 'Chonma' will enable the nation to develop next-generation medium and long range guided missiles ... the mass production of 'Chonma' is expected to make the nation a guided weapons exporter.

An Arms Exhibition and a seminar 'Arms for peace' is being held in Karachi next year for the first time in the history of Pakistan in which the arms manufacturers of Asian, African and Middle Eastern countries are expected to participate. This I should think should be a good platform for the Korean ADD to exhibit their hardware.

Finally I would say that South Korea has not a too enviable strategic location - and being sandwiched between North Korea - and Japan (and luckily it has very good relations with Japan) - ROK must try its best for achieving self-reliance in matters of major arms and missiles especially so due to the hostile posture of North Korea which has supposedly nuclear capability - and proven missile prowess.

With the domestic technical infrastructure that is available in ROK I am sure that the target of self-sufficiency in the state of the art weapons is not beyond South Korea.