South Korea has reached a landmark agreement with the US to extend the range of Seoul’s ballistic missiles by more than twice the current limit to counter the threat from North Korea, the South Korean government said yesterday.
The move to significantly boost the South’s missile capabilities, along with development of advanced aerial reconnaissance vehicles, is likely to rattle the North, which has remained at odds since the 1950-1953 Korean War left the peninsula divided.
It may also stoke concern in China, Japan and Russia, parts of which would be within range of the new missiles.
Under the agreement, South Korea can develop missiles with a range of up to 800km from the current ceiling of 300km, Chun Young-woo, top secretary to South Korean President Lee Myung-bak for foreign and security affairs, told reporters.
He said the US and South Korea also agreed to maintain the maximum payload for a South Korean-developed ballistic missile at the current level of 500kg.
However, if Seoul chose to develop a missile with shorter ranges, it could increase the payload accordingly.
South Korea has also been allowed to develop unmanned aerial vehicles, or UAVs, with an unlimited payload weight if the flying distance is within 300km.
Seoul has for years sought to extend its missile range to deter the North, which it said had developed missiles that could reach every corner of the country. It also wanted to increase the payload for the UAVs and develop not only reconnaissance UAVs, but also combat drones.
“The most important goal for our government to revise the missile guidelines is deterring North Korea’s military provocations,” Chun said.
Currently, all of South Korean and US military installations in Japan and Guam are within range of North Korean missile attacks, according to South Korean government data.
In April, North Korea was condemned by the UN Security Council after a failed long-range rocket launch. US allies, including South Korea, deemed it a disguised test for the North to upgrade its ballistic missile technology, despite Pyongyang’s claim that it was aimed to put a satellite into orbit for peaceful purposes.
Washington had sought to discourage South Korea from developing longer-range ballistic missiles in keeping with a voluntary international arms-control pact known as the Missile Technology Control Regime.