Thaad gains an ‘initial operational capability’U.S. troops in South Korea confirmed Tuesday that its advanced missile defense system has been put into operation despite controversies over its deployment and cost.
“U.S. Forces Korea (USFK) confirms the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (Thaad) system is operational and has the ability to intercept North Korean missiles and defend the Republic of Korea,” the USFK’s spokesman Col. Rob Manning said in an emailed statement. He was calling South Korea by its official name.
The announcement came less than a week after the USFK began installing the Thaad system at a former golf course in the rural town of Seongju, North Gyeongsang. Local residents have fiercely protested the move, with South Koreans still divided over the issue.
The allies also appear to be bracing for a dispute over the financial burden in operating the Thaad battery on the peninsula. President Donald Trump openly said he wants South Korea to pay for it, which has a price tag of $1 billion.
Seoul immediately refuted the demand, saying it has already provided land under a 2016 agreement and has no additional financial obligation.
Besides, South Korea has long been a main buyer of U.S. weapons.
Meanwhile, Pentagon officials said Thaad in Korea has just reached its “initial operational capability,” according to foreign news reports.
It will take months before the entire system is up and running full time, they added.
North Korea has continued its development of ballistic missiles in defiance of international pressure.
The communist nation fired a ballistic missile on the weekend, its third known missile test in April alone, according to the allies’ militaries.
The latest launch ended up a failure as the missile blew up in midair minutes after liftoff, they said. A defense source said the projectile seems to be a new type of missile.
Experts pointed out that the Kim Jong-un regime seems busy trying to upgrade its missile capability to outgun the U.S. shield.
It may be focusing on testing the terminal phase maneuverability of its new missiles to evade missile defense systems, they said.
They cited a reported initial assessment by the U.S. that the North’s recent missiles fired might be the KN-17 anti-ship ballistic missiles, nicknamed “carrier-killer.”