South Korea is in the final phase of developing its Cheongung ('Celestial/Firmament') Korean medium-range surface-to-air missile (KM-SAM or M-SAM) to better counter North Korea's growing missile threats, a military official was quoted by the Yonhap news agency as saying on 16 April.
"All testing and evaluations of the M-SAM have been completed, and it now awaits a final process next month to determine its suitability for intended combat missions," the South Korean source told the media outlet on condition of anonymity.
"It is fair to say that we only have an administrative procedure to complete the development of the M-SAM," the official added. According to Yonhap, the South Korean military is expected to sign a contract to mass-produce the missile in the latter half of 2017.
Seoul aims to deploy the indigenous Cheongung between 2018 and 2019. The government initially planned to deploy it in the early 2020s but moved up the deployment by a year, given the growing threat posed by Pyongyang's repeated missile tests.
Known in its project phase as Cheolmae 2 ('Iron Hawk 2'), the Cheongung SAM system is intended to replace South Korea's MIM-23 HAWK (Homing All the Way Killer) SAM systems, which are locally referred to as Cheolmae.
The system, which is being developed by the country's Agency for Defense Development in co-operation with South Korean firms such as LIG Nex1, is designed to take down targets flying at an altitude of up to 15-20 km.
The Cheongung and the soon to be deployed US Patriot Advanced Capability-3 (PAC-3) series missiles are key components of South Korea's three-pronged strategy to protect the nation from missile threats from the North.
In October 2016 the Ministry of Defense (MND) in Seoul announced that it would bring forward the deployment of its 'three pillars' of national defence, which was originally scheduled to take place by the mid-2020s, by two to three years.
Want to read more? For analysis on this article and access to all our insight content, please enquire about our subscription options: ihs.com/contact