President Barack Obama and South Korean President Park Geun-hye plan to discuss threats from China and North Korea during Park’s visit to the White House on Friday.
In a conflict with either country, South Korea would benefit from the potential US deployment of Lockheed Martin’s Terminal High Altitude Area Defence (THAAD) system in the country.
And the top US military official told a forum last year that placing THAAD missiles in South Korea is a “US initiative.”
“There was consideration being taken in order to consider THAAD being deployed here in Korea,” Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti, the commander of United States Forces Korea (USFK), was quoted as saying by South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency.
“It is a US initiative, and in fact, I recommended it as the commander.”
The THAAD is a missile interceptor that can hunt and blast incoming missiles with a 100% success rate.
Simply put, it’s one of the most advanced missile defence systems on earth. Its possible future deployment to South Korea is already cause for concern in Beijing.
According to South Korea’s Yonhap news agency, “the only concern” that China has with the White House summit between Obama and Park is the “deployment of the THAAD missile defence system in the South.”
With its unmatched precision and mobility, the THAAD can neutralise the kind of aerial bombardment that North Korea would undoubtedly inflict on the South during a potential conflict in the Korean Peninsula.
A THAAD system in South Korea would nearly eliminate any threat of incoming missiles from North Korea:
THAAD systems don’t provide total coverage, though, and was designed to intercept short and medium-range ballistic missiles during the “terminal” stage of their flight path. While a threat from North Korea would be countered, certain ballistic missiles from China, including medium-range missiles, would get past the system:
Currently the Pentagon has deployed a THAAD battery to
Guam in order to deter North Korean provocations and further defend the Pacific region.
By the end of 2016, the US’s Missile Defence Agency (MDA) is scheduled to deliver an additional 48 THAAD interceptors to the US military, bringing the total up to 155, according to a statement from MDA director Vice Admiral J.D. Syring before the House Armed Service Committee.
The THAAD missile does not carry a warhead, instead using pure kinetic energy to deliver “hit-to-kill” strikes to incoming ballistic missiles inside or outside of the atmosphere. Each launcher carries up to eight missiles and can send multiple kill vehicles at once, depending on the severity of the threat.
Lockheed’s missile launcher is just one element of the anti-missile system. This graphic from Raytheon shows the rest of the equipment needed for each enemy-target interception.
Here’s the THAAD in action
Five minutes after enemy missile takes off, a truck-mounted THAAD interceptor missile launches in pursuit of its target.
This is a close shot of what the THAAD missile looks like when launched:
And here’s what the launch looks like from far away:
This infrared imagery shows the THAAD missile demolishing the target:
According to the US Missile Defence Agency, there are more than 6,300 ballistic missiles outside of US, NATO, Russian, and Chinese control. Other US partners around the globe are interested in purchasing THAAD.
The United Arab Emirates has become the first foreign buyer after signing a deal with the Department of Defence for $US3.4 billion. Saudi Arabia and Qatar have “expressed interest,” according to Richard McDaniel, vice president of Patriot Advanced Capability programs at Lockheed Martin. “We expect deals,” he added.
The UAE seems like a particularly appropriate buyer: in September, 45 of its troops deployed near Yemen were killed when an enemy missile struck an arms depo, a reminder of the strategic challenge of ballistic missiles falling into the wrong hands.
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