U.S. House of Representatives passes Asia missile defense bill

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U.S. House of Representatives passes Asia missile defense bill

The U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill calling on the Pentagon to bolster trilateral missile defense cooperation with South Korea and Japan against threats from Pyongyang, amid ongoing suspense over whether Seoul will join a Washington-led anti-missile defense shield.

The bill called on the secretary of defense to “conduct an assessment to identify opportunities for increasing missile defense cooperation” among the three countries, especially “to evaluate options for enhanced short-range missile, rocket, and artillery defense capabilities to address threats from the Korean Peninsula.”

The United States is pushing for the deployment of its Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense (Thaad) advanced anti-missile defense system on the Korean Peninsula designed to intercept any missiles from North Korea.

But Seoul has been hesitant to join the Washington-led Thaad, which could sour its relationship with China and Russia, and has opted to push development of its own missile shield, the Korea Air and Missile Defense (KAMD), which has a more limited deterrence range.

According to the “National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2015,” the Pentagon needs to evaluate the utility of short-range missile defense and counter-rocket, artillery, and mortar system capabilities on Korea.

The bill was revealed to have been passed by the house last week and is pending approval in the Senate before it gets signed by President Barack Obama into law.

The bill added that increased missile defense cooperation among Seoul, Washington and Tokyo “would enhance the security of allies of the United States in Northeast Asia,” increase the defense of U.S. forward-based forces, and enhance the protection of Washington from Pyongyang’s threats.

Areas to increase trilateral missile defense cooperation include more information sharing, systems integration and joint operations, the bill said.

The Korean government passed a budget bill allocating 11.14 trillion won ($10.1 billion) to improve defense capabilities next year, namely the “Kill Chain” capacity, designed to preemptively strike North Korea’s nuclear and missile facilities, and the Korea Air and Missile Defense (KAMD), an independent, low-tier missile shield. Both are key military capabilities for its independent countering of the North’s nuclear and missile threats.

China and Russia have expressed opposition to the deployment of the U.S.-led Thaad battery in Korea, claiming it is against their security interests and may be used as a method of surveillance against them.

Beijing and Moscow may be especially sensitive to the AN/TPY-2, a high-resolution, rapidly deployable X-Band radar designed to detect, track and identify ballistic missile threats at long distances and at very high altitudes, including space, for the Thaad system. This can put China and Russia in range.

The United States and Japan have been working closely on defense cooperation as they upgrade their bilateral defense pact, and Washington is looking to deploy a second AN/TPY-2 radar to Japan.

Russia’s defense industry is reported to be developing its own missile defense systems similar to the U.S. Thaad and long-range ballistic missile shield.

BY SARAH KIM [sarahkim@joongang.co.kr]

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