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A Terminal High Altitude Area Defense interceptor is launched last year from a THAAD battery on Wake Island. Army Gen. Vincent Brooks, commander of U.S. Forces Korea, said THAAD will be deployed in South Korea within the next eight to 10 months.

A Terminal High Altitude Area Defense interceptor is launched last year from a THAAD battery on Wake Island. Army Gen. Vincent Brooks, commander of U.S. Forces Korea, said THAAD will be deployed in South Korea within the next eight to 10 months. (Ben Listerman/MDA)

SEOUL, South Korea — South Korea’s defense ministry reached a tentative land-swap deal Wednesday with a major conglomerate to acquire the planned site for an advanced U.S. missile defense system aimed at countering the growing threat from North Korea.

The agreement brings Washington and Seoul a step closer to their goal of deploying the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system, known as THAAD, next year.

The Ministry of National Defense said it agreed to give the Lotte Group, one of South Korea’s largest family-run conglomerates, state-owned military land near Seoul in exchange for the Lotte Skyhill Country Club in the southeastern Seongju area.

After appraisals of both sites, the board of directors of golf club’s operator, Lotte International, will meet to consider the deal, which will be adjusted if there’s a large gap in value, the ministry said in a statement.

An official with the Lotte Skyhill Country Club, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue, stressed that the deal was preliminary.

“It means we are going to do the exchange if we get a proper assessment of the value,” he said in a telephone interview. “So depending on the appraisal and assessment results, there is still a possibility the exchange won’t go through.”

The mountainous golf club’s value could range from 45 billion won ($39 million) to 85 billion won, while the government land in Gyeonggi province could be worth more than twice that, the Yonhap news agency reported.

A ministry official told reporters one way to address a difference in value would be to give Lotte less land if the government property is more valuable, or a cash payment if the opposite proves true.

The deployment won’t require parliamentary approval because it involves a property swap, said Park Jae-min, director-general in charge of the ministry’s military installation planning bureau.

“We will make sure that all the construction work will be finished in time to help install a THAAD battery within the next year,” he said, according to Yonhap.

Washington and Seoul agreed in July to deploy THAAD on the divided peninsula after months of talks sparked by North Korea’s fourth nuclear test in January and a long-range rocket launch the next month.

Officials have expressed increasing urgency about the issue since North Korea has gone on to test-fire some two dozen missiles and conduct another undergound nuclear test on Sept. 9.

Army Gen. Vincent Brooks, commander of U.S. Forces Korea, said earlier this month that THAAD will be deployed in the next eight to 10 months.

But the deployment faces opposition from China, which fears the powerful radar could be turned on its military.

The plan also has faced local opposition, ranging from protests over health and economic concerns to fears of upsetting powerful trading partner China or becoming a target of a North Korean attack.

The U.S. has some 28,500 servicemembers stationed in South Korea, which remains technically at war with the North after the 1950-53 conflict ended in an armistice instead of a peace treaty.

chang.kyong@stripes.com

gamel.kim@stripes.com Twitter: @kimgamel


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