As tensions with an ever-belligerent North Korea continue to escalate, the United States is now expected to test its THAAD (Terminal High Altitude Area Defense) missile-defense system against an intermediate-range ballistic missile in the coming days.
Officials told Reuters that it will be the first time that THAAD is tested against an intermediate-range ballistic missile. Designed to take out short, medium and intermediate-range ballistic missiles, Lockheed Martin says that using powerful radar systems, THAAD can intercept missiles traveling inside and outside the Earth’s atmosphere. The THAAD interceptors will be fired from Alaska when the test takes place.
Though the test was planned months ago, it will have far more meaning after North Korea tested an Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) on the Fourth of July.
Recently, the U.S. successfully tested its Ground-based Midcourse Defense system (GMD), but missile defense experts argued the test was conducted in perfect conditions that would not mirror the environment of a real war.
While THAAD does have a perfect testing record since 2006, it is also important to note that this system, too, is tested in ideal conditions. Another consideration is South Korea’s new president Moon Jae-in has been critical of THAAD’s deployment on his soil as well as America’s overall role in resolving the nuclear weapons conflict with Pyongyang, as I have written before.
Moreover, many South Koreans don’t want THAAD in their country because they believe the system is destabilizing relations with the north.
It is not clear when, exactly, the test will be conducted. But even if the THAAD test is successful, it won’t ease tensions on the Korean peninsula. Pyongyang could very well respond with another ballistic missile test and Seoul will have to brace for the diplomatic fallout—as it always does.
THAAD could be cheered on as a success if it works here, but relations between North Korea and Washington will continue to sour.