US close to expand South Korea ballistic missile ranges
The US and South Korean governments are close to revising their bilateral agreement to enable Seoul to develop long-range ballistic missiles to better counter threats from North Korea, an unidentified military official has revealed.
Yonhap news agency quoted the official as saying that the two allies were negotiating the possibility of expanding Seoul's missile range to 800km, up from the existing 300km, while leaving the payload weight unchanged at the current 500kg.
"[The two sides] have reached an agreement on major issues [concerning the revision]," the official added, with the decision expected to be announced next month.
However, South Korea's Foreign Ministry refuted the claims. "Nothing has been confirmed yet, and the negotiations are still ongoing,"
Seoul has repeatedly called upon the US to expand the range to more than 1,000km to bring the North's key military targets within its striking range. This has been denied by Washington, citing the potential of causing unrest in countries such as China, Russia and Japan, as well as North Korea.
Washington and South Korea first signed the bilateral missile pact in 1979, which limited the latter's ballistic missile range to 180km, in return for US assistance in missile technology development.
The deal was later revised to expand the range to 300km in 2001, following official negotiations with Seoul, after the North's accelerated efforts for advanced missile technology development.
South Korea's military recently launched a KRW500bn ($447m) programme for domestic development of an unmanned combat aerial vehicle (UCAV) and also requested the sale of an unmanned surveillance aircraft, such as the Global Hawk, from the US to boost its intelligence capabilities, reports The Korea Herald.