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South Korea eyes $300-million deal to buy U.S. missiles for Aegis destroyers

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By Hyonhee Shin

SEOUL (Reuters) – South Korea plans to buy dozens of U.S.-built ship-to-air missiles, in an order worth about $300 million, to boost air defences against North Korea, even as it moves to reduce tension with Pyongyang, Seoul’s arms buying agency said on Friday.

Since 2013, South Korea has bought Standard Missile-2s, developed by Raytheon Co, in instalments to equip three Aegis destroyers preparing to be deployed in the mid-2020s.

It aimed to ramp up the capability to detect and track missiles from the North, as its neighbour developed nuclear programmes ultimately targeting the United States in defiance of international sanctions.

The latest missile purchase decision by a defence acquisition panel paves the way for delivery of the final batch, an official of South Korea’s Defence Acquisition Program Administration (DAPA) said.

The official declined to state the number of missiles, citing security concerns, but said there would be “dozens”, with the total order valued at about 340 billion won ($304 million).

The official declined to be identified because he was not authorised to speak publicly about the deal.

In reconciliation efforts this year, the neighbours clinched a comprehensive military pact at a September summit in Pyongyang, the North Korean capital, that aimed to defuse military tension over their heavily fortified border.

But the South has continued to reinforce air defences, deciding last month to buy two Israeli early warning radar systems.

In September, the U.S. State Department approved possible military sales worth $2.6 billion to South Korea, including six Boeing-made P-8A Poseidon maritime reconnaissance aircraft and 64 Patriot anti-ballistic missile weapons, made by Lockheed Martin Co.

The reclusive North and the rich, democratic South are technically still at war because their 1950-53 conflict ended in a truce, rather than a peace treaty.

At a landmark June summit in Singapore, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and U.S. President Donald Trump pledged to work towards denuclearisation, but the pact was sketchy and talks since have made little headway.

(Reporting by Hyonhee Shin; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

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