Dan Lamothe ·
(c) 2017, The Washington Post, Mar 07, 2017 -
The U.S. military began deploying an advanced defensive missile system to South Korea on Monday, a long-awaited move that was agreed upon with the government in Seoul last summer and follows a series of provocations by North Korea.
The Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system does not use warheads, and is designed to shoot down enemy ballistic missiles like the ones launched by Pyongyang into the Sea of Japan on Sunday. The deployment comes despite protests from Chinese officials, who have said repeatedly over the last year that it is threat to Chinese security.
“Continued provocative actions by North Korea, to include yesterday’s launch of multiple missiles, only confirm the prudence of our alliance decision last year to deploy THAAD to South Korea,” said Navy Adm. Harry Harris, the chief of U.S. Pacific Command. “We will resolutely honour our alliance commitments to South Korea and stand ready to defend ourselves, the American homeland, and our allies.”
The deployment was announced as North Korean state media reported that the four missiles Pyongyang launched Sunday were practice for a North Korean attack on U.S. military bases in Japan. Three of the missiles traveled about 600 miles over North Korea and the Sea of Japan before landing inside of Japan’s exclusive economic zone. The fourth landed just outside the EEZ.
North Korea also is believed to have thousands of artillery cannons aimed at its southern neighbour, a particular concern for Seoul because the city of 10 million is within range, 35 miles from North Korea’s border.
Each THAAD battery includes at least six truck-mounted launchers that carry up to eight missiles each. U.S. military officials stress that it provides strictly defensive capabilities, but it also possesses powerful radar that Chinese officials are concerned will be used to observe Chinese airspace.
The United States and South Korea began discussing the deployment of THAAD more than a year ago, and reached an agreement to do so in July. Former President Barrack Obama reaffirmed U.S. commitment to the deployment in October, saying Washington and Seoul have worked together to prepare for any threat. He specifically cited THAAD as an example, while calling it “a purely defensive system to deter and defend against North Korean threats.”