May 24, 2024

He confirmed the two countries discussed the possibility that South Korea could contribute to the defence technology sharing pact between Australia, Britain and the US.

“During today’s meeting, we also discussed the possibility of partnering with Aukus Pillar 2,” Shin said.

“We support Aukus Pillar 2 activities and we do welcome that members are considering Korea as an Aukus Pillar 2 partner.”

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Aukus will ‘get done’, Biden tells Australia’s Albanese during visit to Washington

Aukus will ‘get done’, Biden tells Australia’s Albanese during visit to Washington

Beijing has criticised Tokyo’s possible participation in Aukus, arguing that Japan should “earnestly reflect on its history of aggression, abandon the practice of forming a small military and security circle and truly pursue the path of peaceful development”.
Launched in 2021, Aukus has two key pillars: Pillar 1 supports Australia’s acquisition of conventionally armed nuclear-powered submarines, while Pillar 2 focuses on cutting-edge technologies, including quantum computing, artificial intelligence and hypersonics.
While the first pillar is limited to the core trio with no plans for additional member states, the expansion would take place in the second pillar, where not only Japan but also South Korea, New Zealand and Canada were reportedly listed as prospective partners.

“Korea is a country with deeply impressive technology where we do have shared values,” Australian Defence Minister Richard Marles said after the 2+2 meeting.

“As Aukus Pillar 2 develops, there will be opportunities in the future, and we’re seeing that play out in relation to Japan as well.”

The 2+2 meeting in Melbourne saw Australian and South Korean foreign ministers Penny Wong and Cho Tae-yul as well as defence ministers Richard Marles and Shin Won-sik meet to discuss future Aukus partnerships. Photo: AFP
Hypersonic technology is one of the core areas in Pillar 2 that Seoul is likely to contribute to. Hypersonic missiles travel more than five times faster than the speed of sound and approach targets from a much lower angle, making them harder to detect with conventional missile defence systems.

Only two countries – Russia and China – are reportedly operating hypersonic missiles in their militaries, while the US and its allies are still in the development phase of supersonic weapons technology.

The US cancelled its development plans for a hypersonic AGM-183A air-launched rapid response weapon in 2023 after repeated test failures, focusing instead on developing smaller hypersonic attack cruise missile systems.

In August 2020, then-South Korean defence minister Jeong Kyeong-doo first revealed Seoul’s development plans for hypersonic missiles. A test prototype of a South Korean hypersonic cruise missile, dubbed “Hycore” was then revealed in 2021.

Hycore will reportedly start testing this year. It is expected to have a speed of up to Mach 6.2 and start its service by the early 2030s as air-to-ground missiles on South Korea’s home-grown fighter jet KF-21 Boramae.

An ability to collaborate on key projects in long-range strike via hypersonics, as well as counter-hypersonic defensive systems, would enable the ROK to bring a great deal of expertise to any collaboration

Malcolm Davis, analyst

Malcolm Davis, a senior analyst at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, said that adding South Korea’s advanced defence and high technology sector, including its developments in priority areas such as hypersonics, would be a “good contributor” to Aukus Pillar 2.

“I think an ability to collaborate on key projects in long-range strike via hypersonics, as well as counter-hypersonic defensive systems, would enable the ROK [Republic of Korea] to bring a great deal of expertise to any collaboration, and potentially open up new avenues for development,” Davis said.

“For example, one area that could be pursued beyond military technologies would be hypersonic-based rapid space access, and that would build into the critical opportunities for space collaboration between Australia and the ROK in the space sector.”

Davis stressed that a “perceived challenge from authoritarian adversaries” was the main driver making hypersonics a priority area in Aukus Pillar 2.

“[China and Russia] are more advanced in their development and deployment of such technologies and the tactical benefits of prompt strike capabilities with enhanced range, and an ability to penetrate integrated air and missile defences,” Davis said.

“It’s absolutely vital that the Aukus members and their partners such as South Korea and Japan develop both the offensive hypersonic strike capabilities to hold at risk Chinese forces at greater range, and also develop effective counter-hypersonic systems to defeat Chinese hypersonic threats.”
Since 2019, Beijing has operated the DF-17, a medium-range missile system equipped with a hypersonic glide vehicle (HGV). With a range of 1,600km (1,000 miles), the DF-17’s “primary purpose” is “striking foreign military bases and fleets in the western Pacific”, according to a Pentagon report in 2022.
A military parade in 2019 revealed China’s medium-range missile, the DF-17, to the world, but later it was revealed that the DF-27 had also been produced but was kept under wraps. Photo: Weibo
There is also the DF-27, an intermediate-range ballistic missile with a hypersonic glide vehicle and a range of 5,000 to 8,000km – enough to strike Hawaii from the Chinese mainland – which China has reportedly had since at least 2019.

Davis said Beijing would “strongly oppose” any move by Seoul to support or take part in the defence technology sharing partnership.

“It is certain that China will criticise and probably pressure Seoul to step back from such a move, and may try to exploit internal political dynamics in ROK,” he said.

James Lewis, a senior vice-president and director of the strategic technologies programme at the Washington-based think tank Centre for Strategic and International Studies, said Seoul’s participation in Aukus Pillar 2 would be a way to “signal that it is moving closer to the US and its allies”.

“The Koreans probably hope that tech cooperation is less provocative. Korea is rethinking its foreign policy, and while it would prefer to not provoke China, they are not willing to be a tributary state,” Lewis said.

“It’s also a signal to China that playing the neighbourhood bully has consequences. ROK looking at Aukus is a political gesture short of military alliance but moving a step closer.

“On the technology point, the ROK is worried that it is losing its technological edge and looking for outside help to rejuvenate. Aukus might be good for that as an antidote for tech parochialism.”

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