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Thursday, July 14, 2016
THAAD: THE DEAL HAS BEEN STRUCK!
14.07.2016 Author: Konstantin Asmolov
THAAD: THE DEAL HAS BEEN STRUCK!
Region: Eastern Asia
There was not a single author’s publication dedicated to the pending installation of an American ABM system in South Korea, but, alas, the decision has been made.
Seoul and Washington commenced negotiations regarding the installation of THAAD ABM systems on the Korean Peninsula on March 4 by establishing a special working group. This decision led to the protests from China and Russia and resulted in a mixed reaction in Korea itself, not to mention the opinion expressed by experts who questioned the feasibility and effectiveness of THAAD in deterring North Korea.
To recap: THAAD (Theater High Altitude Area Defense) is a ground-based mobile ABM defense system for the high-altitude extra-atmospheric interception of medium-range missiles and intercontinental ballistic missiles. The THAAD ABM battery includes AN/TPY-2 ABM radar, six missile launchers, 48 interceptor missiles, remote control and power generator. The ABM radar has a 120 degree visual range and is able to track any flying object at a distance of 250 km. Its intercept range is 200 kilometers, while its intercept height ranges from 40 to 150 kilometers.
However, the AN/TPY-2 radar used in the THAAD battery can be quickly reconfigured to a mode where it will act as a sensor to detect the launch of ballistic missiles within a radius of up to two thousand kilometers, which allows for a significant part of China and the Russian Far East to be monitored and can be used as a part of a global ABM defense system of the USA. It is no coincidence that besides South Korea, THAAD is also placed on Guam and in Alaska.
THAAD invites criticism because, in fact, this system protects the U.S. troops on the Korean Peninsula, in Japan and on Guam, but not the regional security. South Korea already has means of self-defense against medium-range missiles, and whether South Korea requires an ABM defense system that comprises a multi-level low and high altitude interception system is a rather controversial issue. In fact, THAAD is being positioned to shoot down Chinese missiles which trajectory almost coincides with the hypothetical trajectory of North Korean missiles if they were targeted at America. Thus, the U.S. intends to neutralize up to 90% of Chinese missiles and deny China the possibility of retaliation in the event of a large-scale conflict.
Only on July 6, Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook announced that Seoul and Washington had not yet made a final decision; the spokesman of the Ministry of National Defense of South Korea Moon Sang-gyun expressed the same sentiment. However, the next day, the Chosun Ilbo newspaper, citing an anonymous government source, said that everything would be decided within the next month.
The leading South Korean right-wing conservative newspaper pointed out several factors that are accelerating the process. First, Seoul is under pressure from Washington. Second, the opposition’s victory in the parliamentary elections has led to the balance of power in parliament becoming dominated by those who are ambivalent about THAAD. Third, the South Korean military also lobbied for the project.
Already on July 8, the Deputy Minister of National Defense of South Korea for Defense Policy Yoo Jeh-Seung said that South Korea and the United States had reached an agreement. “In order to protect the population of South Korea from the missile and nuclear threat and weapons of mass destruction disposed by North Korea, as well as within the framework of strengthening the US-Korean alliance, the decision has been made to place ABM systems in South Korea”. Thus, it was decided that THAAD would be deployed in South Korea.
Under the said agreement, Seoul is offering land, electricity and water for the THAAD system. The decision on the exact location and time for the installation of the THAAD mobile ABM defense system will be made in the nearest future, but the first battery will enter into operational readiness by the end of 2017.
The expenses for the production of the battery, which is worth USD 1-2 billion, and its deployment will be covered by the United States. Koreans will provide land that will be purchased and transferred for control of the U.S. bases. Thus, THAAD will be placed on the U.S. territory, and it will be the U.S. military forces which determine the specific purpose of the systems, which only added further weight to the suspicion that the THAAD systems would be used not only to provide protection against the North Korean missile threat, but also as part of Washington’s “global containment” campaign pertaining to China and Russia.
Where is the battery will be installed is yet unclear. According to the speech of the Minister of National Defense of South Korea Han Min-goo on July 10, the work is currently under way to clarify a few technical and administrative issues. The location will be announced soon, but the government authorities will only announce the name of the city and county for security reasons. It is expected that the news will be made public by mid-August. However, according to several media sources, there are six main options under consideration, each of which has its own advantages and disadvantages with regards to a military and strategic point of view when taking into account the maximum range of THAAD. They are as follows:
• Pyeongtaek (Gyeonggi Province), where the world’s largest U.S. military base is currently under construction. It is the most feasible option, but too close to China;
• Wonju (Gangwon Province): similar to the previous option, this location allows Seoul to be covered, but it is too close to the border with North Korea and is located within reach of a number of North Korean strike systems;
• Chilgok County (Waegwan) in the North Gyeongsang Province, where there is a large-scale supply point for the U.S. troops and a South Korean air force base. If the radar is placed there, it will be easier for Americans to monitor North Korean missile launches should the North Korea target Guam. But Seoul remains unprotected. However, it is the second most likely option;
• Eumseong County (North Chungcheong Province), where the South Korean Missile Troops Command is located. It is the least likely option;
• Gijang (Busan Area) allows for covering the main port, through which reinforcements and military supplies would be delivered if necessary, but leaves Seoul unprotected;
• Kunsan (North Jeolla Province), where the U.S. first-tier PAC-3 (Patriot) ABM defense systems are placed. It would be simpler to manage THAAD if it was installed there, but its location on the west coast would clearly be an affront to Beijing.
Naturally, the administration of the President of South Korea generally considers the decision to deploy THAAD as absolutely correct. According to one official, it has been made in the interests of national security and the protection of citizens from North Korean nuclear and missile threats in “a situation where the increasing North Korean threat endangers the very existence of South Korea(it’s that serious!!) and its people.“
However, the reaction of the other countries in the region is much less sympathetic, and the political consequences of this step will be discussed in the next article.
Konstantin Asmolov, candidate of historical sciences, Chief Research Fellow at the Center for Korean Studies of the Institute of Far Eastern Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook.”
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