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(2nd LD) Defense ministry seals deal on site for THAAD

All Headlines 14:47 November 16, 2016

(ATTN: CHANGES headline and lead; ADDS photo, official comment in 8th para)

SEOUL, Nov. 16 (Yonhap) -- South Korea's defense ministry concluded a deal Wednesday to acquire the site for an advanced U.S. missile defense system from Lotte Group, a move aimed to better counter evolving ballistic missile and nuclear threats from North Korea.

The Ministry of National Defense has agreed to secure the Lotte Skyhill Country Club in the southeastern rural county of Seongju from the country's fifth-largest conglomerate. The ministry will give state-owned military land near Seoul to Lotte in exchange for the golf course, the ministry said in a statement.

It said an appraisal of the value of the two sites will be conducted and once this process is concluded, Lotte International, the operator of the golf club, will hold a board of directors meeting to sign off on the deal.

If the results show any considerable gap between the two sites, additional steps will be taken, Park Jae-min, director-general in charge of the ministry's military installation planning bureau, said in a press briefing.

"If the government land in Namyangju, Gyeonggi Province, is more expensive than the golf course in market value, the ministry plans to provide less land to Lotte. In the opposite case, the defense ministry will offer a cash payment to make up for the deficit," Park said.

This photo taken on Nov. 16, 2016, shows Park Jae-min, director-general in charge of the ministry's military installation planning bureau, giving a briefing on a swap deal to secure a site for THAAD. (Yonhap)

The 1.48 million-square-meter golf site is priced at 45 billion won (US$39 million) according to government real estate estimates, although the real book value is 85 billion won. The 200,000-square-meter government land could fetch upwards of 140 billion won, the ministry said.

The land acquisition for the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system will not require parliamentary approval because acquiring the site for THAAD involves a property swap with no additional expenditures, Park said.

"The planning and construction work (at the golf course to host THAAD) will begin in early 2017 to make sure that a THAAD battery will be installed before the end of the year," he said.

The ministry has been in talks with Lotte since early October after selecting the Lotte golf club as the final site for THAAD a month earlier, instead of the controversial Seongsan anti-aircraft missile base in the same county, 296 kilometers southeast of Seoul.

The ministry plans to deliver the golf course to U.S. Forces Korea following the swap deal under the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) signed between Seoul and Washington. The construction planning and evaluation of the THAAD battery's environmental impact will then be carried out, he added.

Through close consultations with the new U.S. government, the Seoul government aims to deploy THAAD next year as scheduled.

In a seminar held early this month, USFK Commander Gen. Vincent K. Brooks said: "You're gonna see the deployment of a THAAD battery. This is an alliance decision. It will come in the next eight to 10 months."

This bird's-eye view, taken on Oct. 27, 2016, shows the Lotte Skyhill Country Club in Seongju, chosen as the final site for a THAAD battery, instead of an anti-aircraft missile base in the same county. (Yonhap)

In July, the South and the U.S. announced a decision to deploy the THAAD system in South Korea to better defend against the North's nuclear and missile threats. The rogue regime conducted two nuclear tests and launched about 20 missiles this year alone.

The initial decision to pick the Seongsan missile base as the site of the anti-missile system fell through due to strong objections by local residents living near the base. They claimed the system's powerful X-band radar would pose serious health risks despite government-led test results showing that the radar doesn't pose any health problems to nearby residents.

THAAD, a core part of America's multilayered missile defense program, is designed to intercept incoming ballistic missiles at altitudes of 40 to 150 km during the terminal phase of flight after detecting the missiles with a land-based radar system.

A THAAD battery consists of six truck-mounted launchers, 48 interceptors (eight per launcher), a fire control and communications unit, and an AN/TPY-2 radar.


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