CHRISTCHURCH, New Zealand — South Korea has awarded a contract to LIG Nex1 to develop a new naval surface-to-air missile destined to arm destroyers.

The contract, issued by the Defense Acquisition and Program Administration on March 14, is worth 330.6 billion won (U.S. $246.9 million).

The new weapon, dubbed Ship-to-Air Missile-II, is expected to equip six next-generation KDDX destroyers due to enter service by 2036. DAPA noted in a March 15 news release that “ship survivability will be greatly improved from increasing anti-aircraft threats” thanks to the missile. The agency also refers to the weapon as the Fleet Shared Ballistic Missile-II System.

As prime contractor, the South Korean company is required to complete development of the Ship-to-Air Missile-II by 2030. DAPA stated the goal is to achieve a localization rate of more than 90% on the missile.

“It will be loaded on KDDX, the Republic of Korea Navy’s indigenous next-generation mini-Aegis destroyer, and it will replace the SM-2,” Sukjoon Yoon, a retired South Korean Navy captain, told Defense News. “It will have an active sensor to seek North Korea’s aircraft and new cruise missiles flying in their sea-skimming phase.”

“It will be one of the core parts of KAMD in the foreseeable future,” Yoon added, referring to the country’s multilayered ballistic missile defense system.

Over the years, the Navy has cumulatively purchased 625 RTX-made SM-2 missiles to arm its destroyers. By developing this new indigenous missile, South Korea will become less reliant on the U.S., where RTX is based.

“Through this project, the military will secure ship-to-air missiles at the level of advanced countries with enhanced response capabilities to North Korean antiaircraft threats,” Lee Dong-seok, who leads DAPA’s guided-weapons division, said in the news release. “At the same time, it will help domestic defense companies improve their independent precision-guided weapons research and development capabilities.”

DAPA has not released specifications for the Ship-to-Air Missile-II. However, an accompanying graphic reveals the two-stage missile is cold-launched from a vertical launch system, has an initial booster and can receive course updates via satellite. RTX lists a 90-nautical-mile range for the SM-2; the Ship-to-Air Missile-II’s range is likely to be at least comparable.

The KDDX is to be South Korea’s first destroyer built using only domestic technologies. Hyundai Heavy Industries carried out the basic design of the KDDX beginning in 2020, with the shipbuilder announcing its completion on Dec. 27, 2023. Detailed design is now underway, and a construction contract is expected this year.

LIG Nex1 is the 52nd largest defense contractor in the world based on defense revenue, according to Defense News’ Top 100 list.

Gordon Arthur is an Asia correspondent for Defense News. After a 20-year stint working in Hong Kong, he now resides in New Zealand. He has attended military exercises and defense exhibitions in about 20 countries around the Asia-Pacific region.

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