Thaad a ‘valuable capability’ amid renewed threats: CSIS

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Thaad a ‘valuable capability’ amid renewed threats: CSIS

A Congress-commissioned study by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) has recommended deploying the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (Thaad) anti-ballistic missile system in South Korea in light of the growing missile threat from Pyongyang.

The Thaad system provides a “valuable capability” for South Korea, the Washington-based think tank said in its January report reviewing U.S. defense strategy in the Asia-Pacific region.

However, it added, “Chinese demarches have made the potential U.S. deployment of Thaad on the Korean Peninsula a sensitive issue for Seoul, despite the fact that South Korea has no area defense capabilities against North Korean ballistic missiles.”

The U.S. Department of Defense, directed by Congress, commissioned a new independent assessment to review Washington’s pivot to Asia, considering changes in the security environment as a follow-up to a 2012 CSIS report.

This study, entitled “Asia Pacific Rebalance 2025: Capabilities, Presence, and Partnerships,” pointed out that in regard to the South Korean military’s efforts to develop an indigenous Thaad-like system, “U.S. experience with these types of systems suggests a multi-decade effort would be required to develop and deploy such a missile defense system.”

Citing Seoul’s missile defense plan and the U.S. 4-D operation strategy ? to detect, defend, disrupt, and destroy incoming missiles ? the report added that South Korea “still abstains from fully integrating with the U.S.-based system in the region.”

Complaints from U.S. officials, it continued, “reflect frustration at a lack of transparent consultations” by South Korea.

According to the study, a Thaad battery deployed at the Andersen Air Force Base on the north side of Guam, “to provide defense against ballistic missiles,” is expected to remain there long term.

The United States currently possesses four activated Thaad batteries, though the only one that is operationally deployed is in Guam.

The other three are in garrison at Fort Bliss, Texas. An additional battery will be operationally available next year, and seven in total will be funded.

The report also recommended that the U.S. Department of Defense assess the risks and rewards of increasing the number of Thaad and Patriot Advanced Capability-3 (PAC-3) batteries, “even at the cost of reducing the overall number of combat formations.”

Patriot interceptors defend against lower-tier threats, while the Thaad system aims to strike down long-range missiles earlier in flight and is reported to be the only missile defense system with the ability to intercept threats both in and outside the atmosphere.

The study said that the estimated cost for deploying its existing Thaad assets to Korea is low and recommended two posture initiatives in the near term: First, the United States should work with South Korea to deploy its Thaad system to the peninsula for ballistic missile defense; and second, the United States should improve cruise missile defenses on Guam, using either PAC-3 or, in the future, the Indirect Fire Protection Capability integrated air and missile defense systems.

On North Korea, “there is credible evidence that the potential for a dramatic erosion of regime control is possible,” the report said.

“The leadership is incapable of reform and opening up to market transactions with the outside world, and accepting information inflows would erode the legitimacy of the regime and collapse the system.”

A regime collapse, it said, could result in a massive humanitarian crisis that would “immediately create major security challenges” and pose geopolitical challenges as a united Korea is straddled between China and the United States.

“We have been very clear that we will only proceed with Thaad on full consultation with our Korean partner,” U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken reiterated to reporters Wednesday during his visit to Seoul.

After talking to Korean Foreign Ministry officials, Blinken departed for Beijing, where he will speak with Chinese officials Thursday about how to respond to North Korea’s fourth nuclear test conducted Jan. 6.

The installment of the Thaad battery in Korea has been controversial, particularly because it comes with a radar system that can detect threats more than 1,000 kilometers (620 miles) away - far enough to reach China and Russia. Both countries complain it goes against their security interests.

BY SARAH KIM [kim.sarah@joongang.co.kr]

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