South Korea and the United States have chosen Seongju County in North Gyeongsang Province as the site for a Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) battery, sources said Tuesday.
The government is expected to announce the decision on July 22 following approval from both nations’ defense ministers.
Seoul and Washington officially announced Friday that they will deploy the U.S. missile defense battery in South Korea to counter continued North Korean threats after formal consultations began in March.
“After comprehensive reviews on candidate locations, the allies have reached the conclusion that Seongju is the optimal site for THAAD and they are currently in the final stage of administrative procedures,” a government source said.
The source said that unless an unexpected factor comes up, Seongju County will become the home for THAAD.
The Air Force is currently operating a Hawk ground-to-air missile battery in the county and if THAAD comes to the town, it is expected to be moved to another region.
Seongju is out of range of North Korea’s multiple rocket launchers deployed along its border with South Korea and THAAD can protect key U.S. facilities in Pyeongtaek, Gyeonggi Province and Daegu, if deployed there.
“If THAAD is deployed in Seongju County, it can contribute to providing air defense against North Korean missile threats for South Korea’s Gyeryongdae military headquarters in South Chungcheong Province as well as U.S. military bases in Gunsan, Daeu and Pyeongtaek,” a military official said.
In addition, the current Hawk battery is placed in a mountainous area at an attitude of 300 meters, so it may ease concerns over harmful electromagnetic waves emitted from THAAD’s X-band radar.
Residents from candidate locations are protesting against the U.S. missile defense system coming to their towns because the electromagnetic waves carry potential safety and environmental threats.
“Our missile units are sited in mountainous areas, so I expect locating THAAD to follow suit,” Defense Minister Han Min-koo told lawmakers, Tuesday.
Bringing THAAD to Seongju appears to be a money-saving measure, as well.
The site used by the 170-troop Hawk battery can accommodate a THAAD battery comprised of 120 personnel without purchasing additional land.
Under the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA), South Korea will be responsible for providing the land and relevant facilities to host THAAD while the United States will fund its deployment and operation. One THAAD battery costs about $1.3 billion (1.49 trillion won).
In addition, there have been discussions about the operational effectiveness of the Hawk battery inside the military because there are two Patriot missile batteries placed in the nearby cities of Daegu and Waegwan.
Deploying THAAD there is likely to calm debate on the inefficiency from an overlapping use of similarly performing missiles and offer a broader defense system against North Korean threats.
In response, the Seongju County Office strongly opposed a possible THAAD deployment there.
“The discussed site for THAAD is the most populous area in the county, exposing its residents to harmful electromagnetic waves and threatening their right to live,” said County Executive Kim Hyang-gon. “In addition, the THAAD deployment would damage the county’s production of melons, toppling the regional economy.”
On Tuesday, the county staged a campaign to strike down the planned deployment of the anti-missile system in the region.
However, should Seongju host a THAAD battery, the decision may spark controversy that the government has given up defending Seoul and its surrounding areas — the most populous region in the nation — despite hurting its cherished relations with Beijing.
Since the ROK-U.S. joint announcement, China has strongly expressed its displeasure with the decision, urging the South Korean government to scrap the plan.