SEOUL (THE KOREA HERALD/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - Faced with North Korea's escalating nuclear and missile threats, South Korea is seeking to develop a ballistic missile capable of carrying warheads powerful enough to destroy the communist regime's underground military facilities and wartime commands.
According to military sources familiar with the matter, the government is considering a plan to build a new ground-to-ground ballistic missile that can reach the entire North Korea and load up to 2 tons of warheads.
The measure was revealed a day after South Korea President Moon Jae In and his US counterpart Donald Trump agreed to scrap limits on the payload of South Korean missiles.
Previously, South Korea was banned from fitting warheads weighing more than 500kg onto its ballistic missiles with a range of 800km.
"It is crucial to come up with powerful and practical measures that can make North Korea realize (the impact of its actions)," Mr Moon was quoted as saying by the presidential Blue House Cheong Wa Dae during a telephone conversation with Mr Trump on Monday (Sept 4).
Such moves came as part of efforts to enhance South Korea' deterrence against North Korea, which is believed to have the capability to equip its short- and medium-range missiles with nuclear warheads and has demonstrated the capability through a series of nuclear tests, including one on Sunday.
Under the bilateral missile guideline revised in 2012, South Korea is able to field ballistic missiles with a range of up to 800km, putting the entire North Korean territory in its range. But its effectiveness has been questioned because Seoul is banned from employing warheads weighing more than 500kg.
If South Korea had been allowed to develop a new missile with a payload of more than 2 tons, it would have possessed by now its own tool to take out North Korea's underground military facilities other than the ones employed by the US military, such as the Bunker Buster Bomb, analysts noted.
"The measure would dramatically boost South Korea's retaliation capability against North Korea," said Professor Kwon Yong Soo at Korea National Defense University. "With a one-ton warhead ballistic missile, South Korea could target almost all of North Korea's underground facilities."
In an effort to beef up its military response to North Korea's fast-advancing weapons programme, South Korea is rushing to establish a special brigade tasked with eliminating North Korea's leadership.
The unit, set to launch on Dec 1, is expected to work alongside US special warfare units, such as SEAL Team Six, also known as DEVGRU, which engaged in the mission to kill Osama Bin Laden.
"We are in the process of conceptualising the plan," said Defence Minister Song Young Moo on Monday, responding to lawmakers' questions on whether the military could conduct a "decapitation strike" against North Korea's leadership.
"I believe we can create the unit by Dec 1 and have it become operational."
The decapitation strike is a part of the Korea Massive Punishment and Retaliation scheme, a military campaign designed to take out Pyongyang's leadership with ballistic and cruise missiles in the event of an imminent nuclear attack.