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Pentagon Eyes West Coast for THAAD Amid North Korean Threat

The U.S. has set up a THAAD battery on a former golf course in South Korea. Army photo
The U.S. has set up a THAAD battery on a former golf course in South Korea. Army photo

The Defense Department is looking at potential sites for the placement of the THAAD anti-missile system on the West Coast to guard against the increasing threat from North Korea, according to two members of the House Armed Services Committee.

At the Reagan National Defense Forum in California over the weekend, Reps. Mike Rogers, R-Alabama, and Adam Smith, D-Washington, told Reuters that the DoD's Missile Defense Agency [MDA] is surveying West Coast sites for the deployment of the Army's Terminal High Altitude Area Defense System.

Earlier this year, a full battery of Lockheed Martin THAAD launchers became operational south of Seoul in South Korea despite objections from China and Russia.

MDA has yet to receive an order to install THAAD on the West Coast, MDA Deputy Director Rear Adm. Jon Hill‎ told Reuters, but Rogers, chairman of the Strategic Forces Subcommittee, said, "It's just a matter of the location, and the MDA making a recommendation as to which site meets their criteria for location" and environmental impact.

Both Rogers and Smith said the number of sites for THAAD deployment on the West Coast had yet to be determined.

Currently, the continental United States is primarily shielded by the Ground-based Midcourse Defense system (GMD) in Alaska and California, as well as the Aegis system deployed aboard U.S. Navy ships.

Also at the Reagan National Defense Forum, Army Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, the White House national security adviser, warned of the approaching threat of war with North Korea, but added that Americans traveling to the Winter Olympics beginning in South Korea on Feb. 9 will be safe.

"I think it's increasing every day," McMaster said of the potential for conflict, "which means that we are in a race, really, we are in a race to be able to solve this problem."

However, McMaster said that the emphasis of the Trump administration's national security team, including Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, is on a diplomatic solution to the crisis brought on by North Korea's repeated nuclear and missile tests.

North Korea has conducted 15 missile launches this year. Last Tuesday, North Korea test launched a Hwasong-15 Intercontinental Ballistic Missile [ICBM] that flew 10 times higher than the International Space Station. Analysts estimated that it had the range to hit Washington, D.C.

"There are ways to address this problem short of armed conflict, but it is a race because he's getting closer and closer, and there's not much time left," McMaster said, referring to North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.

With every missile launch or nuclear test, Kim has improved his country's capabilities, McMaster said.

However, the increasing threat should not imperil the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, about 50 miles south of the Demilitarized Zone, he said.

Americans traveling to the Olympics "should feel safe because we have an extraordinarily ready and capable military, and that military is getting stronger every day," McMaster said.

Following on McMaster's comments on the North Korean threat, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, went on CBS' "Face the Nation" program Sunday to urge that military dependents be withdrawn from South Korea.

"We're getting close to a military conflict because North Korea's marching toward marrying up the technology of an ICBM with a nuclear weapon on top that can not only get to America but deliver the weapon," Graham said.

"I'm going to urge the Pentagon not to send any more dependents to South Korea," he said. "South Korea should be an unaccompanied tour. It's crazy to send spouses and children to South Korea, given the provocation of North Korea."

Graham also said that the U.S. might strike first to prevent a North Korean launch. "The policy of the Trump administration is to deny North Korea the capability to hit America with a nuclear-tipped missile, not to contain it," he said.

"Denial means pre-emptive war as a last resort," Graham said. "That pre-emption is becoming more likely as their technology matures."

According to the 38 North website, run by the U.S.-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins' School of International Studies, the Hwasong-15 ICBM launched by North Korea last Tuesday was "considerably larger" than previous missiles test launched by the North.

"Initial calculations indicate the new missile could deliver a moderately sized nuclear weapon to any city on the US mainland," the 38 North website said.

"The Hwasong-15 is also large and powerful enough to carry simple decoys or other countermeasures designed to challenge America's existing national missile defense [NMD] system," the website said.

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