Seoul’s 500-kilometer missile passes its first test

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Seoul’s 500-kilometer missile passes its first test

The South Korean military successfully test-fired for the first time its new 500-kilometer (310-mile) ballistic missile, which can reach any point in North Korea.

The Ministry of National Defense said yesterday it fired the indigenously built missile from Taean on the coast of South Chungcheong on March 23 and it accurately hit its intended target, which wasn’t specified.

It added that South Korea plans to develop longer-range ballistic missile that can fly 800 kilometers.

The military is expected to deploy the 500-kilometer missiles next year.

News of the test came after a series of military provocations from Pyongyang, including the launching of two medium-range Rodong ballistic missiles with a range of about 1,300 kilometers into the waters off the east coast of the Korean Peninsula on March 26 and the shelling of South Korean waters in the Yellow Sea Monday.

“This didn’t happen overnight,” Kim Min-seok, spokesman of the Defense Ministry, said at a briefing yesterday in regards to the timing of the test. “We had planned it long-term, and [the test] happened according to this plan.”

With a capacity to strike any part of North Korea, the newly developed ballistic missile with a payload of one ton trumps its precursor, the domestically developed Hyunmoo ballistic missile, which has a range of 300 kilometers and a 500-kilogram payload.

“Because there is great danger in regards to North Korea’s nuclear and missile threats as well as WMD (weapons of mass destruction), South Korea and the U.S. determined that there is a need for South Korea-made ballistic missiles with a reach of 800 kilometers,” said Kim.

South Korea and the United States revised ballistic missile guidelines in October 2012, enabling South Korea to deploy missiles with a range of up to 800 kilometers, more than double the previous limit.

The new agreement allowed South Korea to load warheads of up to two tons on shorter-range missiles and to use drones that can carry up to 2.5 tons of equipment and weapons. The new agreement was described by both governments as a measure to improve South Korea’s ability to defend itself against the North.

Under a 2001 agreement with the United States, South Korea was prohibited from deploying ballistic missiles with a range of more than 300 kilometers and payloads of more than 500 kilograms. An agreement negotiated in 1979 restricted Korea’s missiles’ range to 180-kilometers.

North Korea has longer-range missiles that can hit its immediate neighbors and as far as the U.S. territory of Guam.

A military source said yesterday that the South Korean Army established a missile command at the beginning of the month, an expansion of the guided missile unit that had not been made public before because it was classified as a strategic unit.

“The missile command was set up to face off against North Korea’s Strategic Rocket Force Command,” the army official said. “Pursuant to the Korea-U.S. missile agreement extending missile ranges to 800 kilometers, there is a need to obtain and develop a wide variety of missiles.”

BY SARAH KIM, JEONG YONG-SOO [sarahkim@joongang.co.kr]

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