THAAD now fully integrated into air defenses for South Korea
By KIM GAMEL | STARS AND STRIPES Published: October 22, 2017
SEOUL, South Korea — A controversial U.S. anti-missile battery has been integrated into air-defense systems for South Korea, with its operating unit to be permanently stationed on the divided peninsula.
The Delta Battery, 2nd Air Defense Artillery Regiment deployed to South Korea from Fort Bliss, Texas, in April to begin moving the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense System, known as THAAD, into place despite opposition from local activists and China.
The overnight operation occurred nearly a year after Washington and Seoul agreed to position the battery in a remote southeastern area to counter the growing threat from North Korea.
The Delta Battery was officially realigned with the 35th Air Defense Artillery Brigade from the 11th ADA Brigade on Thursday in a reflagging ceremony in THAAD’s new home in Seongju.
The Fort Bliss-based Alpha Battery, 4th ADA Regiment assumed the THAAD mission after initial operating capability was achieved and conditions were set for follow-on operations.
“The transfer of authority allowed D-2 to redeploy stateside to prepare for the unit’s return to South Korea on permanent change of station orders,” the 35th ADA’s public affairs office said.
“The 35th ADA Brigade now employs the full complement of the U.S. Army’s ADA capabilities in the Republic of Korea, consisting of Avenger, Patriot and THAAD,” an Army statement said.
It also said South Korea and the United States have moved additional units to Seongju to support daily operations in what has been dubbed “Combined Task Force Defender.”
U.S. military officials did not immediately respond to a request for more details.
Missile-defense capabilities have taken on urgency as North Korea has made progress in developing mid-to-long range weapons that could target U.S. bases in the region.
The communist state has test-fired more than a dozen missiles so far this year, including two intercontinental ballistic missiles in July. The most recent test was on Sept. 15 when the North sent a missile soaring over Japan before it landed in the Pacific Ocean.
It also conducted its sixth and most powerful nuclear test on Sept. 3.
THAAD has been stationed on a former golf course in the melon-farming area of Seongju over the objections of many residents, peace activists and China, which fears the system’s powerful radar could be used against its military.
President Moon Jae-in, who assumed office on May 10, initially suspended the deployment of more launchers and other key equipment but agreed to allow it to proceed as the North stepped up its efforts.
However, Moon left room to reverse the decision, saying it was a “tentative” measure and a final decision on maintaining THAAD would be made after a full environmental impact assessment.
In addition to health and economic concerns, critics say THAAD is designed to protect U.S. forces as they relocate to southern hubs and will do nothing to protect the bulk of South Koreans who live in Seoul and surrounding areas farther north.
U.S. and South Korean military officials insist the battery will be part of a layered defense system with lower-altitude Patriot missiles and other assets already positioned to guard the capital.
Lt. Gen. Thomas Vandal, the 8th Army commander, said earlier this year that Seongju was chosen to house the system to enable it to protect 10 million South Koreans in the area outside Seoul as well as U.S. bases, seaports and vital infrastructure.
THAAD consists of six truck-mounted launchers that can fire up to 48 interceptors after missiles are detected by its X-band radar.
Maj. Benny Lee, 35th ADA Brigade executive officer, was quoted as saying THAAD’s installation was a team effort with South Korea’s military.
“From the moment the system rolled off the plane, it has been a collective effort with [South Korean] and U.S. soldiers and airmen working side by side in defense of the Korean Peninsula,” he said.
Stars and Stripes reporter Marcus Fichtl contributed to this report.