July 28, 2020 / 9:10 AM / 15 days ago

Revised missile pact with U.S. to facilitate South Korean spy satellite

SEOUL (Reuters) - South Korea and the United States have agreed to revise their joint missile guidelines to facilitate South Korea’s plans to build a spy satellite by easing rules on rocket propellants, Deputy National Security Adviser Kim Hyun-chong said on Tuesday.

Under the current guidelines, last amended in 2017, South Korea cannot build rockets using solid-fuel engines, posing a setback for its plans to develop a military spy satellite by the late 2020s.

The change in the propellant rules took effect on Tuesday, Kim said at a briefing in Seoul.

“This revision would allow us to have an unblinking eye that monitors the Korean peninsula 24/7,” he said.

“If we fire low-altitude launch vehicles based on our own solid fuel propellant as planned, it would dramatically improve our military’s reconnaissance capabilities.”

South Korea had initially sought to produce five of its own reconnaissance satellites this year to better monitor North Korea’s activities but the project has been repeatedly delayed largely because of technological difficulties and government changes.

South Korea operates several earth-imaging satellites but has relied heavily on U.S. intelligence to monitor North Korea’s military movements.

Last week, South Korea became the 10th country to launch a military communications satellite but it was conducted by U.S. private operator SpaceX.

Kim also said Seoul is also ready to discuss another revision to raise the range of its missiles which are currently capped at 800 km (497 miles).

In 2017, U.S. President Donald Trump agreed to scrap a 500 kg (1,102 pounds) warhead weight limit on South Korea’s missiles.

Reporting by Hyonhee Shin; Additional reporting by Sangmi Cha; Editing by Christian Schmollinger

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