South Korea says it will launch spy satellites as missile deal revised

SEOUL, South Korea: The South Korean government said on Tuesday it would begin work on launching its own military surveillance satellites to monitor North Korea, after negotiating a loosening in an agreement with the United States that limits the type of rockets that are allowed to develop.

South Korea and the United States have just finished negotiations to review their so-called missile guidelines, first signed in 1979, under which Washington maintained strict restrictions on what type of missiles and rockets Seoul could develop, Kim Hyun-jong , a senior national security officer assistant to President Moon Jae-in, said at a news conference Tuesday.

Kim denied that loosening the missile guidelines was part of negotiations over how much South Korea should pay annually to help cover the cost of keeping 28,500 US troops in the South. President Trump has insisted on a sharp increase from this year’s 1.04 trillion won ($ 866 million), accusing South Korea of ​​not spending enough for its own defense.

Under the revised guidelines, Kim said, Washington removed the limit on how powerful the solid fuel rockets South Korea can build to launch space vehicles are. Solid fuel rockets are much easier to store and handle than their liquid fuel equivalents, making them ideal for missile engines.

The lifting of the lid allows South Korea to build powerful rockets with potential applications for long-range ballistic missiles. Seoul remained obligated not to build ballistic missiles with a range of more than 800 kilometers, or 497 miles, Kim said, but hoped to start launching low-orbit military surveillance satellites using its own solid-fuel rockets in the coming years.

“I cannot go into classified military details, but I can tell you that we will soon have many low-orbit military satellites with excellent surveillance capabilities that monitor the Korean peninsula from the sky 24 hours a day,” said Kim.

South Korea does not have its own military satellites, but relies on spy satellites from the United States to monitor North Korea. But with Trump questioning the merit of keeping United States troops in South Korea, even as North’s nuclear and missile capabilities have expanded rapidly, Seoul has struggled to increase its own abilities to counter the threat from Korea. North.

South Korea plans to deploy five military reconnaissance satellites by 2023 at a cost of $ 1 billion, the national Yonhap news agency reported.

On Tuesday, Kim said South Korea has lacked “eyes and ears” despite its $ 41.6 billion defense budget, in part blaming the restrictions on missile guidelines.

Under those guidelines, the United States provided South Korea with technical assistance to build missiles. But it also imposed restrictions on missile development due to concerns about a regional arms race. The guidelines have been reviewed three times before.

In 2012, as the Northern missile threat increased, the United States agreed to allow South Korea to possess solid fuel ballistic missiles with a range of up to 497 miles, provided the payload does not exceed 500 kilograms, or approximately half ton.

In 2017, the United States raised the payload limit. But South Korea is still prohibited from developing ballistic missiles with a range of more than 497 miles.

South Korea launched a new short-range ballistic missile, Hyunmoo-4, in March. The missile had a range of 497 miles, but was designed to carry a payload of up to two tons, according to South Korean media.