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No discussions on possible location shift of THAAD launchers in S. Korea: defense ministry

Defense 15:52 February 14, 2020

By Oh Seok-min

SEOUL, Feb. 14 (Yonhap) -- No discussions have taken place with the United States about the possibility of moving THAAD missile interceptor launchers away from their battery in central South Korea to other parts of the country, the defense ministry said Friday.

Earlier, the U.S. Missile Defense Agency hinted at the possibility of separating the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) unit's launchers in the central county of Seongju in order to secure greater flexibility in its operation.

It is part of the U.S. plan to upgrade its seven THAAD batteries and related training equipment deployed around the world, for which the U.S. government sought a US$1 billion budget for next year. One of the batteries is a full six-launcher THAAD unit installed in Seongju in 2017-2018.

The relocation idea raised concerns that it could spark the ire of China, which has long railed against the THAAD deployment, claiming that the system could be used to spy on the country and hurts its national security interests.

On Friday, Seoul's defense ministry spokesperson, Choi Hyun-soo, said that Seoul and Washington "have never discussed such a matter as moving (the battery or launchers) outside the Seongju base."

While noting that the Seoul government was "briefed by the U.S. side on its work to improve THAAD capabilities," the spokesperson simply said it "will take time before plans are realized." She did not elaborate.

U.S. Forces Korea was not immediately available for comments on the matter.

During a press briefing on the 2021 defense budget on Monday, U.S. missile agency director, Vice Adm. Jon Hill, said, "If you can separate the launchers away from the battery, that gives you a lot of flexibility on the peninsula.

"So you could put the battery further back, you can move the radar back, you can put the launchers forward, you can bring in additional launchers. And so that capability is not in a typical THAAD battery today," he said.

The THAAD deployment has been one of the most sensitive diplomatic issues for South Korea, as China has taken economic retaliatory measures for Seoul's hosting of the battery. Seoul and Washington have stressed that the system aims only to better cope with the growing missile threats posed by North Korea.

This photo, taken Sept. 12, 2017, shows a launcher of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system being positioned at a U.S. military base in Seongju, 300 kilometers south of Seoul. (Yonhap)

graceoh@yna.co.kr
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