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(News Focus) Seoul's multilayer shield in offing against N. Korea's advancing nuke power

All Headlines 19:37 March 08, 2016

SEOUL, March 8 (Yonhap) -- South Korea and the United States are moving forward to create a multilayered defensive shield against North Korea's ever-growing nuclear weapons and delivery capability that is threatening peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula.

North Korea's latest long-range rocket launch last month shook off South Korean hesitation's about the need to consider deploying the sophisticated anti-ballistic missile defense shield built by the United States, despite strong objections by China, local observers said.

Earlier this month, South Korea and the U.S. officially launched a joint working group to negotiate the potential deployment of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense, or THAAD. This is seen as a difficult decision for Seoul, whose ties with its No. 1 trading partner, China, could be put to the test with an actual deployment.

Internally, South Korea will have to address angry protests from neighborhoods that have raised health concerns about the electromagnetic waves-emitted by THAAD.

South Korea's move to start talks, despite such obstacles, indicates how urgent it is for the country to construct an effective defense against North Korea's emerging threats.

North Korea is reportedly in possession of a full-range of ballistic missiles, spanning from those that could hit all of South Korea to as far away as the U.S. mainland.

Having conducted four nuclear tests, including the latest one in January, the communist country is also believed to be in the final stages of completing nuclear warheads that are small enough to fit onto a ballistic missile.

Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti, the chief commander of 28,500 American troops stationed in South Korea, has often cited deterrence against North Korea's nuclear threats as his top priority, calling for the building of "layered, interoperable" ballistic missile defense in the Northeast Asian ally.

THAAD, if deployed in South Korea, is expected to provide the final edge to the country's own missile interceptor network that is in the making.

Under South Korea's Air and Missile Defense plan to be completed in mid-2020, known as KAMD, the country plans to introduce home-grown long-range surface-to-air interceptor missiles (L-SAM) and PAC-3 Patriot missiles, an advanced version of existing Patriot surface-to-air missiles.

Both are anti-ballistic missile interceptors that could detect and shoot down incoming missiles at a relatively low altitude ranging from 30-50 kilometers.

With its intercept altitude reaching up to 150 kilometers, the introduction of THAAD could provide South Korea a "multilayered" defense, a military strategy involving multiple layers of defense that resist rapid penetration by an attacker, according to military officials here.

First deployed by the U.S. Army in 2008, THAAD is designed to destroy incoming missiles by colliding with them in the so-called hit-to-kill method which could help avoid the explosion of nuclear warheads mounted onto the missiles.

THAAD intercepts a ballistic missile in the terminal phase of the missile's three-stage flight. The other two are called the boost and mid-course phases.

One THAAD battery is made up of the ground-based radar, the fire control and communication unit, six mobile launchers and 48 interceptor missiles.

The radar, AN/TPY-2, is the world's largest ground X-Band radar which could spy on airborne objects up to a range of 250 kilometers.

Military officials said THAAD could also counter short- to intermediate-range ballistic missiles coming from North Korea that include Scud, Rodong and Musudan missiles.

One THAAD battery could defend one half or two thirds of South Korea, according to the officials. It is also capable of intercepting a submarine launched ballistic missile, or SLBM, they said.

One battery costs some 1 trillion won (US$827.6 million).

If the allies finally decide on a deployment, the U.S. will relocate its Texas-based THAAD battery to South Korea, defense officials have predicted.

The U.S. currently has five THAAD batteries in place, including one in Guam, and plans to field two more by 2019.

"THAAD is a smart weapon that has the highest accuracy rate among any of the existing missile defense systems," a high-ranking defense official said. "It could be a useful weapon system that could safeguard South Korea from North Korea's nuclear and missile threats."

pbr@yna.co.kr
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