The country unveiled its budget proposals aimed at bolstering its defences against North Korea. In its defence blueprint for 2022-2026, the defence ministry said it would develop new missiles “with significantly enhanced destructive power,” upgrade missile defence systems and deploy new interceptors against long-range artillery.
The ministry said in a statement: “We will develop stronger, longer-range and more precise missiles so as to exercise deterrence and achieve security and peace on the Korean Peninsula”
Among those missiles is a new weapon with a flight range of 350-400 kilometres and a payload of up to 3 tons, designed to destroy underground facilities such as those North Korea is believed to use to store nuclear weapons, Yonhap reported, citing unnamed sources.
The missile would be the latest in a tit-for-tat conventional missile race between the two Koreas that is set to accelerate.
It comes after South Korea and the US agreed to scrap all bilateral restrictions on Seoul’s missile development earlier this year.
In 2020, South Korea announced its new Hyunmoo-4 short-range ballistic missile (SRBM) could carry a 2-ton warhead, while in March North Korea tested an SRBM that it said could deliver a 2.5-ton payload.
The Hyunmoo-4 is South Korea’s largest missile.
The defence ministry statement said: “Following the termination of the guidelines, we will exercise deterrence against potential threats and improve strike capabilities against main targets.
Before the decade is out, Asia will be bristling with conventional missiles that fly farther and faster, hit harder, and are more sophisticated than ever before – a stark and dangerous change from recent years, analysts, diplomats, and military officials have said.
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The new weapons include the Long-range Hypersonic Weapon (LRHW), a missile that can deliver a highly manoeuvrable warhead at more than five times the speed of sound to targets more than 2,775 kilometres (1,724 miles) away.
David Santoro, president of the Pacific Forum, said: “The missile landscape is changing in Asia, and it’s changing fast.”
He warned that rather than balance tensions and help maintain peace in the area the weapons development across Asia was “more likely” to stir suspicions.
He said: “More likely is that missile proliferation will fuel suspicions, trigger arms races, increase tensions, and ultimately cause crises and even wars.”
Overall South Korea’s defence blueprint calls for spending 315.2 trillion won (US$273 billion), a 5.8 percent year-on-year increase on average, over the next five years.