The two U.S. THAAD launchers in place on a South Korean golf course will work against the North Korean missile threat but would work a lot better with a full battery of six launchers, according to Pentagon officials.
“We still think it’s very important to have a full battery there,” a Pentagon spokesman said Friday. He said the two launchers are “operational and can intercept North Korean missiles,” but “the full THAAD battery is necessary to respond to the North Korean threat.”
The spokesman declined to say whether the components for the full battery are already in South Korea and waiting for clearance from the Seoul government to be moved to the golf course. “We’re not going to talk about parts and equipment,” he said.
Last week, the new South Korean government of President Moon Jae-in suspended deployment of the additional four launchers of the Lockheed Martin-made Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system on a former golf course in Seongju province about 130 miles south of Seoul, citing environmental concerns.
The government gave no timeline on when an environmental study would be ready, but said deployment of the four launchers had been halted until “a full-blown environmental impact assessment is completed.”
During the election campaign, Moon suggested the THAAD deployment could be an obstacle to renewing talks with North Korea and said decisions about its future should be put to a vote by parliament.
China has also been vehemently opposed to the THAAD deployment over concerns the system’s powerful X-band radars could be used to spy on its own defense and nuclear systems.
Last week, Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley told a Senate subcommittee the THAAD system is vital to protecting South Korea’s people and the 28,000 U.S. troops in South Korea against the expanding missile threat from the North.
Milley was optimistic that the full battery eventually would be deployed despite the environmental study. “We’ll work through it and, at the end of the day, I think the Republic of Korea will be properly supported by the United States,” he said.
On Monday, North Korea said recent acts by the Moon government, including the THAAD deployment, had cast doubt on the possibility of reviving a 2000 agreement on a summit between North and South Korea.
The North’s propaganda outlet, the Korean Central News Agency, said of Moon’s government, “It is doing such a stupid act, oblivious of the lesson taught by history. Its succession to the anachronistic confrontation policy against the nation will only make it face stern punishment.”
In April, U.S. President Donald Trump rattled the Seoul government by saying that South Korea should pay $1 billion for placement of the hit-to-kill THAAD system. His national security adviser, Army Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, later backed off the demand but said Trump expects allies to contribute more for mutual defense.