Hyunmoo-2, a new homegrown ballistic missile with a range of 500 miles, is test-fired from a mobile launch pad at a test site of the Agency for Defense Development in Anheung, South Korea. Seoul has requested permission to develop more powerful missiles. File Photo by Yonhap/EPA
Aug. 8 (UPI) -- The United States is considering a change that would permit ally South Korea to develop bigger and more powerful ballistic missiles.
Pentagon spokesman Jeff Davis said the United States is in discussions with South Korea on increasing the size of warheads that could meet the challenges of North Korea's improved missile performance, South Korean newspaper Korea Economic Daily reported Tuesday.
Missiles in South Korea's arsenal have limits on warhead size and range, but the United States supports expanding Seoul's defense capabilities, Davis said.
Current guidelines for South Korean missiles were established in October 2012, under the Obama administration.
The measures allowed Seoul to develop ballistic missiles with a range of up to 500 miles, up from 186 miles in the last agreement.
Permitted payload, however, stayed at 500 kilograms.
South Korean President Moon Jae-in recently asked U.S. President Donald Trump to allow for a payload of up to 1,000 kilograms, Yonhap reported.
The United States and South Korea are to address these issues directly at the annual ROK-U.S. Security Consultative Meeting, or SCM, in October.
U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and his South Korean counterpart Kang Kyung-hwa met on Sunday during the ASEAN Regional Forum in Manila and agreed to begin preliminary negotiations, according to Korea Economic Daily.
Seoul is focusing on increasing warhead payload, rather than expanding missile range, as the latter would only invite strong opposition from China, Russia and Japan, according to the report.
It is believed a 1,000-kilogram or 1-ton warhead would be powerful enough to destroy the underground bunker of the North Korean elite, facilities that are built with a special material tougher than concrete, Korea Economic Daily reported.
South Korean analyst Kim Dong-yup told the newspaper the heavier payload could also increase missile engine power, which could subsequently increase the range of the projectile.