THAAD con­tro­versy resur­faces as US seeks to ex­tend range

The Korea Times - - FRONT PAGE - By Kang Se­ung-woo [email protected]­re­atimes.co.kr

Korea is back in the hot seat as the U.S. mil­i­tary has an­nounced plans to im­prove its Ter­mi­nal High Al­ti­tude Area De­fense (THAAD) bat­ter­ies in­clud­ing the one here.

As the upgrade is fo­cused on ex­tend­ing the range of its de­fense area, the plan is rais­ing spec­u­la­tions that the launch­ers may be trans­ferred to Seoul or its sur­round­ing ar­eas, or that ad­di­tional launch­ers may be deployed, which may reignite dis­putes with China over the anti-mis­sile sys­tem. A report has also sparked con­cerns that the U.S. may push Korea to fund the con­struc­tion of the THAAD base, which could run counter to the al­lies’ agree­ment on the is­sue.

The plan for the bat­tery sys­tem upgrade was dis­closed ear­lier this week by the U.S. Mis­sile De­fense Agency.

“Ad­di­tion­ally in fis­cal year 2021, we will com­plete the in­te­gra­tion of mis­sile de­fense ca­pa­bil­i­ties on the Korean Penin­sula. We will ini­ti­ate the de­vel­op­ment of an im­proved THAAD in­ter­cep­tor for lay­ered home­land de­fense,” John Hill, the di­rec­tor of the agency, said in a press brief­ing at the De­part­ment of De­fense, Feb. 10.

In 2017, an anti-mis­sile bat­tery was deployed in the south­east­ern county of Seongju, north Gyeongsang Prov­ince, to counter North Korean mis­sile threats.

Ac­cord­ing to Hill, the im­prove­ments to the lay­ered mis­sile de­fense sys­tem will give it ex­tended range by al­low­ing the launch­ers of the THAAD sys­tem to be con­trolled re­motely.

“If you can sep­a­rate the launch­ers away from the bat­tery that gives you a lot of flex­i­bil­ity on the Korean Penin­sula. So you could put the bat­tery fur­ther back, you can move the radar back, you can put the launch­ers for­ward, you can bring in ad­di­tional launch­ers. And so that ca­pa­bil­ity is not in a typ­i­cal THAAD bat­tery to­day,” he said.

THAAD, de­signed to shoot down short- and medium-range and in­ter­me­di­ate bal­lis­tic mis­siles in their ter­mi­nal phase, is cur­rently con­trolled by wires but the U.S. mil­i­tary has made ef­forts to re­motely con­trol the mis­sile de­fense sys­tem. On Aug. 30, 2019, the U.S. Army suc­cess­fully con­ducted its first test of a re­motely fired THAAD in­ter­cep­tor.

Hill also said the U.S. is work­ing on launch­ing Pa­triot mis­siles us­ing the more ef­fi­cient THAAD radar.

The THAAD sys­tem on the penin­sula has been crit­i­cized for its lack of cov­er­age that can­not de­fend Seoul and its sur­round­ing ar­eas, but Hill’s re­marks are prompt­ing spec­u­la­tion that the THAAD launch­ers could be moved from Seongju and sta­tioned else­where — al­though he did not elab­o­rate on how far the U.S. plans to sep­a­rate the launch­ers from the bat­tery.

In re­sponse, the South Korean de­fense min­istry said the is­sue has not been dis­cussed be­tween Seoul and Wash­ing­ton.

“The re­lo­ca­tion of the THAAD bat­tery needs bi­lat­eral agree­ment be­tween the two coun­tries,” a min­istry of­fi­cial said.

If the plan is im­ple­mented, Korea is highly an­tic­i­pated to face back­lash from China, which adamantly op­poses the mis­sile sys­tem, claim­ing it is used to spy on China’s mil­i­tary.

The THAAD sys­tem’s de­ploy­ment on Korean soil re­sulted in eco­nomic re­tal­i­a­tion from the Chi­nese gov­ern­ment, in­clud­ing a still-ef­fec­tive ban on its people’s group tours to Korea.

An­other con­tro­versy sur­round­ing the THAAD sys­tem is the U.S. may re­quest for South Korea to share the ex­penses re­quired to con­struct fa­cil­i­ties at the Seongju base.

The fis­cal year 2021 bud­get pro­posal of the De­part­ment of the Army dated Feb. 3 showed that the U.S. ear­marked $49 mil­lion (58 bil­lion won) for the de­vel­op­ment of the THAAD base, ad­dress­ing the pos­si­bil­ity that the “host na­tion” will cover the costs.

“The pos­si­bil­ity of Host Na­tion fund­ing has been ad­dressed,” it said. “Funds from Host Na­tions pro­grams are avail­able to sup­port this re­quire­ment.”

The dec­la­ra­tion is counter to the South Korean gov­ern­ment’s pre­vi­ous state­ments that the U.S. shoul­ders the cost of the THAAD de­ploy­ment.

Yon­hap

Mem­bers of a civic group hold a press con­fer­ence in front of Cheong Wa Dae in Seoul, Fri­day, to protest against the al­leged U.S. plan to push Korea to fund a Ter­mi­nal High Al­ti­tude Area De­fense (THAAD) base in Seongju, North Gyeongsang Prov­ince. They de­manded that the U.S. and Korea re­move the anti-mis­sile sys­tem from Korea.

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