The advanced U.S. missile defense system THAAD is believed to be capable of intercepting North Korea's intermediate-range ballistic missiles if it is deployed in South Korea, Seoul's defense chief said Friday.
North Korea claimed Thursday that it has succeeded in test-firing its mid-range missile, boasting of its capacity to hit U.S. forces in the Pacific region. "The deployment of THAAD will help South Korea's move to counter the North's missile threats," Defense Minister Han Min-koo told reporters.
The minister said that more information is needed to check THAAD's capability to intercept the North's mid-range missiles, but generally, the system is believed to be up to the task. Seoul and Washington have been discussing the potential deployment of the Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense battery in South Korea, where about 28,500 American troops are stationed.
The allies' move is aimed at countering the North's evolving missile threats amid concerns about the technical progress of North Korea's nuclear and missile programs. On Wednesday, the North fired off what is believed to be two Musudan mid-range missiles, marking its fifth and sixth launches since April. The Musudan missile, with an estimated range of some 3,000 to 4,000 kilometers, could theoretically reach any target in Japan and fly as far as the U.S. territory of Guam.
The North's first five attempts to test-fire the missile failed, but the sixth one flew about 400 kilometers after being launched at a higher angle Wednesday. The North's latest move raises concerns about advances made in the country's nuclear and missile capabilities. Pyongyang is seeking to develop a nuclear-tipped intercontinental ballistic missile capable of hitting targets on the U.S. mainland. South Korea's military said that it is too early to conclude the North's test was a total success, but experts said that if the North did not launch the missile at a higher angle, it could have traversed on a normal trajectory.
Han said that North Korea could test-fire an ICBM or a submarine-launched missile in a bid to show off its military prowess. "We do not rule out the possibility of an additional nuclear test by North Korea," he said. South Korea is speeding up the development of the indigenous Korea Air and Missile Defense system. A pre-emptive missile destruction system, the so-called Kill Chain, is also under development to detect and strike North Korea's missile and nuclear facilities. The North conducted its fourth nuke test in January and launched a long-range rocket in the following month, drawing international condemnation. The country is banned from using ballistic missile technology under relevant U.N. Security Council resolutions.