Washington may deploy its high-tech THAAD antiballistic-missile system in South Korea in June – earlier than expected, local media report.
Up to nine truck-mounted launchers, each with eight interceptors, could be mobilized.
To deploy the THAAD, the South Korean Defense Ministry plans take over the land in Lotte Skyhill Country Club’s golf course in Seongju County, located some 300 kilometers south of Seoul, Yonhap news agency reported on Sunday.
While the exact number of launchers has not yet been announced, sources told Yonhap that the THAAD unit will have between four to nine truck-mounted launchers, each with eight interceptors.
The battery will allegedly boast powerful ‘X-band’ AN/TPY-2 radar capable of detecting incoming missiles at great distances.
Seoul originally planned to sign the deal to take over the golf course in January, but plans stalled over strong objections to the deployment from Beijing.
The ministry is now reportedly saying that the plan is being sped up.
“If the transfer and the design and development take place at the same time, the process can be completed without too much delay,” a source told Yonhap, adding that “because of the unexpected delay, things will be sped up.”
The commander of US forces in South Korea said in November that a THAAD anti-missile system battery would be deployed in South Korea within eight to 10 months, Reuters reported, which would mean July to August.
THAAD, which stands for the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense, is an advanced system designed to intercept short, medium, and intermediate-range ballistic missiles during their terminal flight phase.
Equipped with a long-range radar, THAAD is believed to be capable of intercepting Pyongyang’s intermediate-range ballistic missiles.
Seoul and Washington reached an agreement on THAAD in July of last year.
Despite growing Russian and Chinese concerns over security in the region, Washington argued that the system would be aimed against threats from North Korea, saying THAAD would keep Pyongyang’s nuclear ambitions at bay.
Moscow and Beijing have repeatedly urged all those involved in THAAD’s deployment to consider the escalated tensions it would inevitably lead to.
Last month, the Chinese Foreign Ministry once again reminded Seoul of its strategic “concerns,” stressing its “clear opposition” to THAAD’s deployment on South Korean soil.
“The THAAD deployment by the US in the ROK severely disrupts regional strategic balance, undermines the strategic security interests of regional countries including China, and does no good to peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Geng Shuang told a press briefing.
However, South Korea’s Foreign Ministry spokesman said that “THAAD deployment is a sovereign and self-defensive measure,” vowing that Seoul will not interrupt the deployment.
US Defense Secretary James Mattis stated in January that Washington stands “shoulder-to-shoulder” with Seoul to face the threat from North Korea, adding that, were it not for Pyongyang’s “provocative behavior,” there would be no need to deploy the THAAD system in South Korea.
In September of last year, two US B-1 bombers flew over South Korea in a show of force for North Korea after Pyongyang conducted its fifth nuclear test.