U.S. allows 800km range for Seoul’s ballistic missiles

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U.S. allows 800km range for Seoul’s ballistic missiles

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Seoul and Washington reached an agreement to raise the range of South Korea’s ballistic missiles up to 800 kilometers (497 miles) from the current restriction of 300 kilometers, the first amendment in their military pact in 11 years.

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As a result, all of North Korea will be in striking range of South Korea’s missiles.


But the two countries agreed to maintain a restriction on the weight of payload allowed on the missiles, 500 kilograms (1,102 pounds), which keeps South Korea behind North Korea. The North’s long-range missiles can reportedly carry 1,000-kilogram warheads and have a maximum range of 6,700 kilometers.

“On Oct. 5, the government revised the previous missile pact signed in 2001 and delivered the new one to the U.S. government,” Chun Yung-woo, senior presidential secretary for foreign and security affairs, told reporters at a briefing at the Blue House.

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“The most important purpose of the amendment of the missile pact is to deter military provocations from North Korea,” he said.

The new pact will also enable a South Korean drone, or Unmanned Aerial Vehicle, to carry payloads of more than 2,500 kilograms, up from the current limit of 500 kilograms. The unmanned aircraft will be multi-purpose, the pact now says, equipped with “military capabilities,” so that they cannot only patrol but also attack a target when needed.

Seoul has been trying to rewrite its missile pact with the U.S., which was first signed in 1979 and revised in 2001, to counter threats by North Korea’s missiles. All of South Korea is within striking distance of the North’s missiles. Under the previous 300 kilometer restriction, only around half of the North was in range, up to the level of the city of Hamhung in South Hamgyong Province.

Under the extended range, a missile fired from the southernmost South Korean territory, Jeju Island, can reach all of North Korea. Missile bases in the south are less vulnerable to attack from the North than bases in the center or northern areas of South Korea.

Responding to criticism that Seoul should have pressured Washington to raise the payload limit, the Ministry of National Defense said that if the missile’s range is less than 550 kilometers, they can carry heavier payloads, even up to 1,000 kilograms.

“Applying the so-called ‘trade-off’ rule, we can have missiles carrying warheads weighing up to 1,000 kilograms,” Shin Won-sik, an official at the ministry, told reporters at another briefing yesterday. “We can say that there’s no payload limit actually, because if we launch a missile from the central region of the country, all of North Korean territory is under the 550-kilometer striking range.”

Still, South Korea’s missile capabilities are far behind the North’s due to the agreement with the U.S. The North reportedly has at least 300 short-range Scud missiles with a range of 300 kilometers and a maximum payload of 1,000 kilograms. They also have 11 long-range missiles, called Musudan, which can reach up to 4,000 kilometers.

In 2006, North Korea unsuccessfully test-fired its longest-range ballistic missile, the Taepodong-2, which the ministry says is designed to fly up to 6,700 kilometers, putting Hawaii, Alaska and the U.S. West Coast in its range.

By Kim Hee-jin [heejin@joongang.co.kr]

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