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Thaad could be up and running in April

Mar 09,2017
The remaining parts of the U.S. Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (Thaad) antimissile system will arrive within a month, or by April 8, two officials from the South Korean military exclusively told the JoongAng Ilbo, an affiliate of the Korea JoongAng Daily, Wednesday.

One official told the paper that Seoul and Washington agreed to operate the missile interceptor “as soon as” all the military equipment arrives in South Korea, which could mean that the Thaad-battery might go into action in early April.

Another senior military official agreed with the one-month timeline and said components will arrive regardless of other Thaad-related procedures Seoul and Washington are working on. The allies are currently running environmental tests on the Lotte golf course in Seongju County, North Gyeongsang, which will be renovated to become the battery’s home. A land deal granting ownership of the land to U.S military forces will also have to be sealed, both of which are expected to be finished by late April or early May, according to the source.

The first components of the antimissile system, including two launchers, were flown into Korea Monday night. The deployment was months earlier than expected, as local media speculated the process would start in June at the earliest. Seoul’s official stance was that the system would be deployed and operated by the end of this year.

A Thaad battery is comprised of 48 inceptors, six truck-mounted launchers, a fire control and communications unit and AN/TPY-2 radar.

Briefing reporters on the surprise arrival, South Korea’s National Defense Ministry said North Korea’s recent missile launches and military provocations sped up the deployment. The military refused to specify when the remaining parts will come or when Thaad will go into operation.

China, which along with Russia has vehemently opposed Thaad’s deployment, was not notified of Monday’s arrival in advance, the ministry said. China believes the Thaad battery is actually intended to spy on its airspace. Seoul and Washington maintain it is not.

White House press secretary Sean Spicer reiterated Washington’s commitment to the deployment during a regular press briefing Tuesday, saying the U.S. understood China’s concerns but that it was a “national security issue” for South Korea and Japan.

Mentioning that President Donald Trump had separate phone calls with Hwang Kyo-ahn, South Korea’s prime minister and acting president, as well as Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe Monday, Spicer continued that Trump reiterated the United States’ “ironclad commitment” to stand with Tokyo and Seoul in the face of serious North Korean threats.

Trump also emphasized that his administration was “taking steps to further enhance” their ability to deter and defend against North Korea’s ballistic missiles, using a “full range of the United States’ military capabilities,” said Spicer.

In Seongju County Wednesday, around 200 protesters rallied near the Lotte golf course and urged the government to scrap the deployment, saying they would start an all-night demonstration.

BY LEE CHUL-JAE, LEE SUNG-EUN AND KIM JUNG-SEOK [lee.sungeun@joongang.co.kr]