SEOUL — In a critical step toward developing its naval capabilities, South Korea plans to construct three more 7,600-ton destroyers equipped with American-made Aegis combat systems and sophisticated ballistic missile interceptors.

Presided over by Defense Minister Jeong Kyung-doo, a top executive committee of the Defense Acquisition Program Administration (DAPA) endorsed April 30 the $3.3 billion effort to acquire the additional destroyers by 2028.

The batch 2 ships of the KDX-III Sejong the Great-class are expected to be fitted with the Raytheon-built RIM-161 Standard Missile 3, or SM-3, according to DAPA officials.

“The construction [of more Aegis destroyers] will help the South Korean Navy respond to potential maritime disputes more effectively as well as carry out peacekeeping mission more successfully, as the ships are supposed to have upgraded ship-to-air and underwater operational capability,” DAPA spokesman Park Jung-eun told reporters.

The new batch of Aegis destroyers, in particular, would have an up-to-date software suite for destroying incoming ballistic missiles, the spokesman added. The three batch 1 ships are equipped with the SM-2 interceptor designed to engage anti-ship cruise missiles during the terminal intercept phase.

The purchase of ballistic missile interceptors was included in South Korea’s five-year midterm force improvement plan, according to DAPA and Navy sources.

The ship-based interceptor is a key part of the country’s own missile shield, dubbed the Korea Air and Missile Defense, or KAMD — a network that includes Patriot Advanced Capability-2 and -3 interceptors, ship-based SM-2 missiles, and locally developed medium-range surface-to-air missiles.

The U.S. Army’s Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system was deployed in the southern part of South Korea in 2007 to augment the low-tier, terminal-phase KAMD.

“The Joint Chiefs of Staff set an operational requirement of intercepting an incoming ballistic missile at an altitude over 100 kilometers,” a source with the Joint Chiefs of Staff told Defense News on condition of anonymity. “The SM-3 certainly meets the requirement. It’s a shoo-in.”

The hit-to-kill SM-3 is known to be capable of taking down targets at altitudes of 150-500 kilometers. The newest variant, the SM-3 IIA, can hit targets at an altitude of up to 1,000 kilometers.

Hyundai Heavy Industries is scheduled to sign a contract with DAPA on the construction and integration of batch 2 Aegis destroyer systems in June, according to DAPA officials, while the arms agency signed a contract with Lockheed Martin earlier this year to buy an upgraded Aegis ballistic missile defense system, the Baseline 9.C2, for the Sejong the Great-class Aegis destroyers.

The DAPA also approved a plan to develop three more heavy-attack submarines by 2028. Under the plan code-named KSS-III, three 3,450-ton submarines are to be constructed for $2.9 billion.

The newer submarines are to be designed 450 tons heavier and 6 meters longer than batch 1, and they will be fitted with 10 vertical launch cells, according to the DAPA.

The batch 2 subs will also be equipped with lithium-ion batteries that can double the operational hours compared to those with lead-acid batteries. The systems development contract for the KSS-III batch 2 program is to be signed in June with local company Daewoo Shipbuilding and Marine Engineering.

Jeff Jeong was the South Korea correspondent for Defense News.

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