In recent years, the United States has relaxed so-called missile guidelines that placed limits on the range and weight of ballistic missile warheads that South Korea was allowed to develop. After North Korea launched its first intercontinental ballistic missile in 2017, then President Donald J. Trump lifted the payload limit on South Korean ballistic missiles. At the summit meeting in May between President Biden and his South Korean counterpart, Moon Jae-in, the allies agreed to end the missile guidelines, leaving South Korea free to develop longer missiles. scope.
North Korea has reacted angrily to the removal of missile restrictions, calling it a “stark reminder of hostile US policies.”
Removing the limits allows South Korea to build ballistic missiles with larger warheads that wield destructive power and that can target underground bunkers where North Korea keeps its nuclear arsenal and its leaders would hide in war, military analysts said.
When Mr. Moon visited his Defense Department’s Defense Development Agency last year, he said South Korea had “developed a short-range ballistic missile with one of the largest warheads to the world, ”an apparent reference to the Hyunmoo-4, which missile experts say it can cover all of North Korea with a two-ton payload.
When North Korea last conducted a missile test on March 25, it said it launched a new ballistic missile with a 2.5-ton warhead. This month, reports surfaced in South Korean media that the South was developing an even more powerful weapon: a short-range ballistic missile with a payload of up to three tons.
The accumulation of tit-for-tat weapons has signaled that rival armies are arming themselves with increasingly powerful missiles that can fly farther and carry more destructive power, and which are more difficult to intercept.