• ROKAF KF-16C taken at Pitch Black in Darwin, 2022.
Credit: Nigel Pittaway
    ROKAF KF-16C taken at Pitch Black in Darwin, 2022. Credit: Nigel Pittaway

The US State Department has approved two potential Foreign Military Sales (FMS) packages to the South Korea for air- and ship-launched missiles.

The Defense Security and Cooperation Agency (DSCA) announced on 14 November that approval had been given to South Korea’s request to buy up to 38 Standard Missile 6 (SM-6) Block I missiles, MK.21 Vertical Launch System (VLS) canisters and other associated equipment and support. The estimated total program cost is US$650 million (A$1.005 billion).

The SM-6 is also known as the Raytheon RIM-174 Standard Extended Range Active Missile (ERAM) and is used for long-range defence against manned and unmanned aircraft anti-ship cruise missiles and terminal ballistic missile defence. It can also be used as a high-speed anti-ship missile.

The DSCA announced the following day that the US ally has also been cleared to buy 42 Raytheon AIM-9X Sidewinder Block II+ agile air-to-air missiles and associated equipment and support, with the estimated cost listed as US$52 million (A$80.58 million).

South Korea will use the SM-6s to equip the Aegis destroyers of the Republic of Korea Navy (ROKN), primarily in potentially defending against North Korea’s arsenal of ballistic and cruise missiles. It is the fourth operator of the missile, after the US, Australia, and Japan.

The missile uses an enlarged seeker adapted from that of the AIM-120C Advanced Medium-Range Air-to-Air Missile (AMRAAM) and may be employed in a number of modes: inertially guided to target with terminal acquisition using active radar seeker, semi-active radar homing all the way, or an over-the-horizon shot with Cooperative Engagement Capability.

Official specifications for the SM-6 say that it can engage targets flying at up to 34,000 m (110,000 ft) from 240 km (130 nm) away, although there are claims it can be used at much longer ranges.

Meanwhile, the AIM-9X AAMs for South Korea can go on to a variety of air platforms flown by the Republic of Korea Air Force (ROKAF). These include the Lockheed-Martin F-35A, Boeing F-15K and upgraded Lockheed-Martin KF-16 multirole combat aircraft.

It will also be used to equip the Korean Aerospace Industries KF-21 Boramae fighter that is currently being developed. South Korea plans for the KF-21 to enter mass production in 2026 and enter service with the ROKAF, with KAI also offering it for export.

KAI plans to make the KF-21 compatible with a variety of air-to-air munitions from Europe and the US, with the AIM-120 AMRAAM, Diehl IRIS-T and MBDA Meteor being earmarked for eventual integration.

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