The U.S. has begun deploying an advanced missile defense system in South Korea, and China is livid.
North Korea fired four scud missiles into the Sea of Japan Monday morning in a drill involving North Korean military units “tasked to strike the bases of the U.S. imperialist aggressor.” In response to North Korea’s provocations, the U.S. began deploying the first elements, two launchers, of a Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) anti-missile system on South Korean soil. The launchers were delivered to Osan Airbase, from which they will be moved to Seongju. The South is still awaiting the arrival of four more launching pads, the control and communications unit, and the radar system.
“The Trump administration is taking steps to enhance our ability to defend against North Korea’s ballistic missiles,” White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said Monday.
“Continued provocative actions by North Korea, to include yesterday’s launch of multiple missiles, only confirm the prudence of our alliance decision last year to deploy THAAD to South Korea,” U.S. Pacific Commander Admiral Harry Harris said in a statement Tuesday.
THAAD is designed to intercept short and mid-range missiles. The THAAD system is equipped with 48 missiles and has a 30-minute reload time. THAAD can protect up to two-thirds of South Korea, and whatever the anti-missile system misses can be picked up by the Patriot missile system can pick up the slack.
The U.S. and South Korea announced plans for THAAD’s deployment last summer, and the plans have since faced strong opposition from China, Russia, North Korea, and some in South Korea.
China has been particularly outspoken in its criticisms of the new missile shield.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs said Tuesday that China “firmly opposes” the deployment of THAAD, adding that China “definitely be taking necessary measures to safeguard our own security interest” and that “all consequences” that result from the deployment will fall on the shoulders of the U.S. and South Korea.
Beijing warned the U.S. and South Korea against “going further and further down the wrong road.”
Chinese state media argued that THAAD will bring about an arms race. Comparing THAAD to a new shield that will encourage the development of better spears, the Xinhua News Agency argued, “More missile shields of one side inevitably bring more nuclear missiles of the opposing side that can break through the missile shield.”
China objects to the eyes of the THAAD system, specifically, the Army Navy/Transportable Radar Surveillance (AN/TYP-2) X-band radar, which can operate in either terminal mode or forward-base mode.
In terminal mode, the radar has a range of several hundred miles, giving the THAAD anti-missile system the ability to detect, track, and eliminate missiles in the final or terminal phase of flight. In forward-base mode, the radar’s range is extended, making it possible for THAAD to target projectiles in the initial or launch phase. The radar can reportedly be reconfigured in eight hours.
The U.S. has assured China that the radar will be set in terminal mode; however, China fears that the U.S. will opt for the extended-range option. In forward-base mode, the radar could potentially peer into Chinese territory and reveal essential information about China’s defense systems. China asserts that U.S. plans to deploy THAAD in South Korea will upend China’s strategic nuclear deterrence capabilities.
China also fears that the deployment of THAAD is part of a much broader containment effort the U.S. has been carrying out against China for years.
Secretary of Defense James Mattis stated clearly last month that “there is no other nation that needs to be concerned about THAAD other than North Korea.”
President Donald Trump spoke with South Korea and Japan yesterday evening. The three parties agreed that North Korea would face “very dire consequences” for its aggression.
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