South Korea is close to coming to an accord with the United States that would allow the East Asian state to produce ballistic missiles with longer flight ranges, the Asahi Shimbun reported on Sunday (see GSN, Feb. 22).
A decade-old South Korean-U.S. missile technology trade agreement restricts Seoul from manufacturing any ballistic missile with a maximum range of more than 186 miles or building any ballistic missile warhead with an explosive payload in excess of 1,100 pounds.
The two allies are now discussing changing the guidelines to allow missiles with a range of no more than 497 miles -- a distance that would allow the weapons to strike anywhere in North Korea, South Korean government insiders said. Warhead weight limits would not be changed.
South Korean and U.S. officials began discussing revising the missile agreement toward the end of 2010 amid ongoing talks on ways to avert further North Korean hostilities.
The Stalinist state continues to further its own ballistic missile development -- launching a long-range weapon in April 2009 and apparently finishing work earlier this year on a second ballistic missile launch site (see GSN, Feb. 18).
The North's missile forces include an estimated 600 Scud missiles with a strike range of between 186 and 311 miles and approximately 200 Rodong missiles that can strike locations at a maximum distance of 808 miles, according to the newspaper.
Though South Korea might see its ballistic missile range allowance increased to close to 500 miles, that length could be reduced to 311 miles, sources said. An ultimate determination would be based on how Pyongyang responds to the change in Seoul's missile posture (Yoshihiro Makino, Asahi Shimbun, March 12).