Amid Tough Talk on North Korea, US Wants More THAAD Interceptors

The Pentagon's request for $30 billion more in the fiscal 2017 defense budget included money for 12 more THAAD hit-to-kill missiles such as those now being installed in South Korea that have been denounced by China, Russia and North Korea.

The announcement Thursday came on the same day that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson warned that "all options are on the table" to stop North Korea's nuclear and inter-continental ballistic missile programs, including a possible pre-emptive strike.

At the Pentagon, acting Under Secretary of Defense-Comptroller John P. Roth went through charts on the $30 billion request and said "you'll see we're buying 12 THAAD interceptors as well." The Pentagon request called for $151 million to buy the 12 missiles.

A full Terminal High Altitude Area Defense battery made by Lockheed Martin Corp. would cost about $800 million, according to Aerospace & Defense intelligence Report. A THAAD battery consists of at least six launcher vehicles, each equipped with eight missiles, with two mobile tactical operations centers and the AN/TPY-2 ground-based radar.

Earlier this month, two of the launcher vehicles arrived at Osan Air Base in South Korea, and South Korean military officials said that the THAAD system could be operational next month at a former golf course in Seongju south of Seoul.

A THAAD battery is already in place in Guam and two stand-alone AN/TPY-2 radars, made by Raytheon, are positioned in Japan where they are integrated with PAC-3 Patriot anti-missile systems.

On his trip to South Korea last month, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said that THAAD was purely a defensive system that should be of no concern to China and Russia. "There is no other nation that needs to be concerned about THAAD other than North Korea if they're engaged in something that's offensive," Mattis said.

Elements of the THAAD system began arriving at Osan hours after North Korea fired what were believed to be four medium-range missiles that splashed into the Sea of Japan inside Japan's exclusive economic zone.

The THAAD system in South Korea was intended to be the first layer in a triple-layered defense against North Korea's short- and medium-range missiles.

The powerful AN/TPY-2 radars, the world's largest mobile X-band radars, would track the missile launch and attempt to bring it down with a THAAD hit-to kill interceptor.

If that failed, the THAAD tracking data, instantly passed to Navy Arleigh Burke class destroyers offshore, would enable the destroyers to attempt to shoot down with missile with the Aegis Combat System, developed by RCA and now produced by Lockheed.

If that failed, the PAC-3 Patriot batteries, which would have the tracking data from THAAD relayed by the Aegis destroyers, would be the last line of defense.

The Aegis and Patriot missile defense systems are linked to THAAD by the US military's Command and Control, Battle Management and Communications system, known as C2BMC, according to contractor Lockheed.

The complaints of China and Russia about the THAAD system are not so much at its anti-missile capabilities but rather at the long range of the AN/TPY-2 ground-based radar. China has charged that the X-band radar could monitor its own military operations and Russia has voiced similar complaints about its operations in Russia's Far East.

Tillerson visited South Korea's Demilitarized Zone at Panmunjom on Friday and was scheduled for high-level talks in China on Saturday.

Ahead of his visit, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying again called on South Korea to reverse course and cancel the THAAD deployment, China's Xinhua news agency reported. "We again urge relevant parties to face up to the essence of the issue as well as China's legitimate concerns and stop the deployment," Hua said.

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