Thaad won’t protect Seoul areaAlong with the deployment of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (Thaad) system to South Korea, military authorities are working on a separate missile defense plan to protect Seoul and the surrounding area from attack by Pyongyang.
A high-ranking Korean military official told the JoongAng Ilbo on Monday, “There is a high likelihood that the final site for the Thaad system, which Korea and the U.S. are deciding on now, may be a location that might make it difficult to protect the Seoul metropolitan area, so we are making preparations.”
A working group established by Seoul and Washington to discuss the placement of the U.S. Forces Korea anti-missile system began in March. During the initial discussion over where to place a Thaad battery, Korea proposed a site in the central region. Washington preferred a more southern site to cover Busan, the site of the U.S. Naval Forces Korea headquarters, and its other military assets.
One government official familiar with the negotiation process over Thaad said, “The United States has said that the Thaad battery had to be out of reach of North Korea’s new 300 multiple rocket launch system, which has a range of 200 kilometers (124 miles), and in an emergency situation, should protect U.S. military personnel.”
The official continued, “The specific location cannot be revealed, but to my knowledge, the Thaad will be deployed to a southern-central region so that in case of an emergency it can protect the Busan port and other areas that will be used by U.S. troops from North Korea’s missile attack.”
This suggests the Thaad will be placed at least 200 kilometers from the military demarcation line between the two Koreas.
Chilgok County in North Gyeongsang and Pyeongtaek in Gyeonggi are among some locations rumored to be possible host sites. However, other candidates have been named recently such as Yangsan in South Gyeongsang, or Seongju County in North Gyeongsang.
If one of those sites is chosen, the Seoul metropolitan area will be out of range of the Thaad system’s interceptors, which have a range of 200 kilometers.
To prepare for such a scenario, the military will substitute the Korean Army’s PAC-2 (Patriot Advanced Capability-2) missiles with the more advanced PAC-3s set to be introduced next year to increase its missile interception capability and will also review a plan to deploy them to the metropolitan area.
“The scope of defense of the Thaad system covers one-half to two-thirds of South Korea,” said Minister of National Defense Han Min-koo at a National Assembly Defense Committee meeting on Monday. “Whichever region the Thaad is deployed, we will increase the defense density in regions where it is weak, and improve missile intercepting capabilities.”
That statement suggests that along with the deployment of the Thaad battery, another layer of missile defense will be achieved by Patriot missiles.
“It is true that Thaad has a radar that can detect from 600 to 1,000 kilometers, but its actual scope for intercepting missiles is a little over 200 kilometers,” said Shin In-kyun, head of the Korea Defense Network think tank. “Because it cannot cover the entirety of Korea, there is a need for another defense plan for those regions that Thaad cannot protect.”
There are expectations that the location of the Thaad placement will be announced as early as next week.
Seoul and Washington’s decision to deploy the Thaad to Korea, which was announced jointly by the Ministry of National Defense and the U.S. Forces Korea on Friday, has been met with strong opposition by China and Russia, who claims it will compromise their security interests, along with renewed threats from Pyongyang of a “physical” response.
It has also sparked strong debates domestically between lawmakers as well as a not-in-my-backyard attitude from residents of sites where the battery could be placed.
Aside from Chilgok County and Pyeongtaek, Eumseong County in North Chungcheong, Osan in Gyeonggi, Wonju in Gangwon, and Gunsan in North Jeolla were also among those rumored to be possible host locations.
Thousands of people have held rallies to protest its placement in their hometowns. Residents have expressed fears of an increased U.S. military presence in their neighborhood, the possibility their homes may become targets of a North Korean attack and also concern over electromagnetic waves emitted by the radar system.
Amid such strong opposition, Gyeonggi Governor Nam Kyung-pil said he would support the Thaad being placed in Pyeongtaek, should it make the shortlist.
“If it is decided that the Thaad will be placed in Pyeongtaek, I am fundamentally in favor of this,” Nam said in a radio interview Tuesday.
He added that if the government “provided plenty of evidence for its decision and explains to the residents properly, I believe that any region should accept it.”
Some opposition lawmakers called for a National Assembly vote on the deployment of a Thaad battery, while others, such as People’s Party Rep. Ahn Cheol-soo, called for a national referendum on the decision.
The minor opposition People’s Party, through a general meeting of lawmakers, adopted a party position Tuesday opposing the deployment of the Thaad, “taking into consideration the overall national interest” and urged withdrawal from discussions with Washington on its deployment.
Rep. Chung Dong-young, a former unification minister under the Roh Moo-hyun administration, called for a three-party consultative group to enable the National Assembly and the public to make a decision on the deployment of the Thaad.
Ahn, former chairman of the People’s Party, on Sunday called for a national vote on the deployment of the Thaad. He said he is against it because of its negative diplomatic and economic repercussions. However, he has since backpedaled on the call for a national vote.
BY SARAH KIM, JEONG YONG-SOO [email@example.com]