South Korea is trying to find a path between being strong enough of a threat to deter North Korea yet not pushing everything off the cliff into a hot war - that could go nuclear.
South Korea has stated that they do not seek to be able to wipe out innocent lives of North Korean citizens by using either nuclear or conventional weapons in any indiscriminate bombing scheme. The path they want is a build up of a stronger arsenal of conventional weapons,the ability to detect any incoming strikes against Seoul and the ability to launch pre-emptive strikes if they do detect such attacks aimed at not only destroying such launch sites,but also to specifically target Kim Jong-un and his cadre of leaders.
Mr. Moon has vowed to expand the defense budget to 2.9 percent of South Korea’s gross domestic product during his term, from 2.4 percent, or $35.4 billion, as of this year. For next year, his government has proposed a budget of $38.1 billion, nearly $12 billion of it for weapons to defend against North Korea.
South Korea has now introduced three arms-buildup programs — Kill Chain; the Korea Air and Missile Defense program; and the Korea Massive Punishment and Retaliation initiative, which includes the decapitation unit.
Under the Kill Chain program, South Korea aims to detect impending missile attacks from North Korea and launch pre-emptive strikes.
North Korea keeps artillery and rocket tubes near the border, and is capable of delivering 5,200 rounds on Seoul in the first 10 minutes of war, military planners in South Korea say. The North also operates hundreds of missiles designed to hit South Korea and United States bases in Japan and beyond to deter American intervention should war break out.
Detection has also become harder.
North Korea hides missiles in its many underground tunnels. Switching to solid fuel has made some of its missiles easier to transport and faster to launch. In recent years, North Korea also has flight-tested missiles from submarines, which are tougher to detect.
Intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities are crucial, said Daniel A. Pinkston, a defense expert at the Seoul campus of Troy University. Without those capabilities, “they would be ‘shooting blind’ because the missile units could not identify the targets,” he added.
Miscalculation could prompt an unwarranted pre-emptive strike, which could start a regional nuclear war.
Last month, South Korea said it would launch five spy satellites into orbit from 2021 to 2023 to better monitor weapons movements in North Korea.
In the interim, it is talking with countries like France and Israel to lease spy satellites.
It also plans to introduce four American RQ-4 Global Hawk surveillance drones by next year.
If pre-emptive attacks failed, South Korea would hope its Korea Air and Missile Defense would shoot down any rockets from the North.
South Korea is planning to upgrade its PAC-2 interceptor missiles for a better low-altitude defense.
Last week, South Korea helped the United States military install a Thaad missile-defense battery, which intercepts enemy rockets at higher altitudes.
For additional protection, South Korea is developing its own L-SAM interceptor missiles, as well as installing more early warning radars for ballistic missiles.
Under (the Korea Massive Punishment and Retaliation plan), South Korea would try to divide Pyongyang into several districts and wipe out the area where Kim Jong-un is believed to be hiding, defense analysts said.
President Trump agreed to lift payload limits under a decades-old treaty, allowing South Korea to build more powerful ballistic missiles. The United States helped South Korea build its first ballistic missiles in the 1970s, but in return, imposed restrictions to try to prevent a regional arms race.
The earlier restrictions barred South Korea from attaching a payload weighing more than half a ton to its Hyunmoo missile when the rocket had a range of up to 497 miles.
Washington’s decision to lift the missile payload limits may allow South Korea to develop new Hyunmoo missiles capable of destroying weapons sites and leadership bunkers deep underground, said Shin Jong-woo at Korea Defense Forum, a Seoul-based network of military experts.
Mr. Shin said there was talk of building a Hyunmoo with a two-ton warhead.
“We can now build ballistic missiles that can slam through deep underground bunkers where Kim Jong-un would be hiding,” Mr. Shin said. “The idea is how we can instill the kind of fear a nuclear weapon would — but do so without a nuke. In the medieval system like North Korea, Kim Jong-un’s life is as valuable as hundreds of thousands of ordinary people whose lives would be threatened in a nuclear attack.”
After the North’s latest nuclear test, South Korea fired its Hyunmoo-2 short-range ballistic missiles in a drill simulating an attack on the North’s test site. In July, the South’s military also released simulated images of Taurus bunker-buster missiles hitting the defense ministry in the North Korean capital, Pyongyang. South Korea is buying 260 Taurus missiles from a German and Swedish joint venture.