South Korea is having trouble persuading the U.S. to extend its permissible missile range and payload. The U.S. is apparently insisting on a trade-off clause in a bilateral agreement that says if the maximum range is extended from the current 300 km, then the weight of the warhead must be reduced from the present 500 kg.
"The U.S. is steadfastly opposed to our demands to boost the range of our missiles to 800-1,000 km in order to deal with a North Korean threat," a government official here said on Tuesday. "It's unwilling to change its stance that any extension in range would require the size of the payload to remain the same as the present limit or be reduced."
But experts here say a warhead weighing less than 500 kg would not pack much of a punch unless it is a nuclear payload.
"If we follow the U.S. proposal, then there would be no point in extending the range of our missiles since we do not have nuclear warheads," a military expert at a state-run think tanks said. "A warhead weighing more than 500 kg is essential to destroy North Korean missile bases or nuclear facilities located in deep underground bunkers," said another.
Ballistic missiles like the Hyunmu-2 presently operated by the South Korean military carry warheads that do not exceed 500 kg, but North Korean missiles are apparently equipped with warheads weighing between 650 kg to 1 ton. China's ballistic missiles carry warheads that weigh up to three tons, and Russia has 8.8 ton warheads.