South Korea scores big in Middle East with Saudi air defence win

South Korea’s Ministry of National Defense (MND) announced that Saudi Arabia has signed an agreement procure 10 batteries of the KM-SAM Block II (KM-SAM II) medium-range air defence system worth up to US$3.2 billion.

The deal was inked as early as November 2023 but was only made public following a meeting between South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol and Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman during the 2024 edition of the World Defense Show held in Riyadh.

According to the MND, the missile effector segment of the air defence system will be based on the LIG Nex1 KM-SAM Block II missile but customised to meet Saudi requirements and redesignated SA-MSAM. The missile effectors are supplied by LIG Nex1 although the multifunction active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar is produced by Hanwha Systems.

The latest deal further grows South Korea’s footprint in the Middle East air defence market. Seoul earlier secured a deal in early 2022 to deliver a KM-SAM system worth up to US$3.5 billion to the United Arab Emirates.

The earlier deal was secured during a meeting between then-South Korean President Moon Jae-in and Emirati Prime Minister Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum in Dubai as they negotiated economic cooperation.

“The UAE is the first foreign nation to operate the Cheongung II [KM-SAM],” said the MND’s Defense Acquisition Program Administration (DAPA) in a statement.

“The deal is the result of the bilateral defense cooperation based on mutual trust and will serve as a watershed moment for future direction of the two nation’s strategic defense partnership,” added DAPA.

The KM-SAM was first developed by the MND’s Agency for Defense Development (ADD) and designed to replace the ageing MIM-23 HAWK (Homing All the Way Killer) family of SAM systems surface-to-air missiles that were first introduced in 1964, as well as to complement the more expensive Patriot Advanced Capability-3 (PAC-3) missile systems.

A complete KM-SAM battery is understood to comprise four to six eight-cell wheeled transporter erector launchers, a multifunction phased array 3D radar, and a fire control vehicle. The KM-SAM Block I missile can intercept up to six missile or aircraft threats approaching at altitudes up to 40 kilometres, with a detection range of 100 kilometres. The Block II extends the interception range by another 10 kilometres.

by Jr Ng