President Donald Trump is making it possible for South Korea to strengthen its arsenal of ballistic missiles to counter the growing threat from North Korea.
“The heads of South Korea and the United States reached a final agreement on removing the limit on missile payloads,” South Korean President Moon Jae-in revealed at a press conference Tuesday.
South Korea has been eager to significantly increase its firepower as North Korea develops a diverse collection of ballistic missiles and nuclear, as well as conventional and biochemical, payloads for those weapons systems. Guidelines on the South’s missile program were adjusted in 2012 to extend the range of the ballistic missiles, but the weight of the warheads remained fixed at 500 kilograms.
Trump and Moon have agreed to remove the payload restrictions, making it possible for South Korea to double its firepower by increasing the warhead weight for its Hyunmoo-II missiles to one metric ton. “With a 1-ton warhead, we will make remarkable progress in our ability to strike North Korea’s leadership.” Jang Young-geun, a missile expert at Korea Aerospace University, told The Korea Herald this past summer.
The heavier warheads give South Korea the ability to penetrate hardened tunnel and bunker structures scattered about North Korea. Many of North Korea’s core strategic facilities, such as the nuclear and missile bases and wartime command centers, are located deep underground.
“If a payload of one ton can be loaded on an 800-kilometer range missile, our military will be able to conduct the Korea Massive Punishment and Retaliation (KMPR) plan more effectively as the missile’s penetration capability will be seriously improved,” a military official told South Korean media.
Trump and Moon also discussed arming South Korea with improved warfighting systems.
“We agreed to immediately begin negotiations on South Korea’s development and acquisition of the most advanced military surveillance assets,” the South Korean president announced. A defense official later revealed to Yonhap News Agency that there were talks about adding nuclear-powered submarines to the South Korean navy. These assets are banned under existing guidelines, but those may be revised to counter North Korean threats.
“We have the greatest military equipment in the world and South Korea will be ordering billions of dollars of that equipment, which for them makes a lot of sense and for us means jobs and reducing our trade deficit with South Korea,” Trump said at the joint press conference.
During his stay in Japan, part of his two-week tour of Asia, the president also urged Tokyo to consider purchasing additional armaments. It is unclear if the aim is deterrence, preparation for conflict, or both.
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