Written by Staff Writer at CNN Staff Writer at CNN
If the US’s first interceptor missile is successful in its first firing, the test of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system will mark the culmination of years of work aimed at stemming the military ambitions of China and North Korea.
The THAAD system has failed twice to intercept missiles in the past, but the US believes this shot — especially if successful — would demonstrate its reliability against missiles in all weather and all angles.
Speaking to reporters on August 29th, US Secretary of Defense James Mattis said: “We have concluded that we need to begin with the first flight test of the THAAD Missile Defense System in order to demonstrate its performance capability, and I believe that that is necessary to give our allies and our partners an opportunity to evaluate its capabilities.
“It has taken us some time to finish this system. I’m looking forward to seeing it.”
China has hit back, with Admiral Sun Jianguo, chief of staff of the Chinese navy, telling military officials in late August that China could “mount retaliatory strikes to defend our country’s sovereignty, security and development interests.”
Meanwhile, a spokesman for North Korea has called the test a “waste of time.”
China has been angered by the joint patrols and joint exercises conducted by South Korea and the US, fearing they will escalate tensions in the region. However, US President Donald Trump has repeatedly called on China to take more responsibility in dealing with North Korea.
“The purpose of a militarized THAAD anti-missile system is the same as to serve as a cover for the US to carry out more active, invade-preventive operations in Northeast Asia,” China’s defense ministry spokesman said in a statement released last month.
Beijing has backed isolated North Korea against US military threats and military drills conducted on its own soil, angering Washington.
On Friday, Japan’s defense minister Itsunori Onodera said a decision on whether to purchase THAAD had not yet been made, according to the Wall Street Journal.
China, as with Russia, fears that THAAD’s mid-range interceptors could harm its own capabilities and even threaten its existence.
Threat to regional peace
In August, Mattis said the THAAD deployment to South Korea would “contribute to our efforts to ensure that North Korea does not develop the capability to threaten the United States with a nuclear-tipped missile.”
But the move has caused concern among US allies, including Japan, which imports much of its oil and natural gas from South Korea.
The THAAD system is also scheduled to be deployed in Guam, an American territory in the Pacific. It will become a more tempting target if China unilaterally decides to cut oil supply to the territory or takes action against the country’s internet services.
Experts have warned that China’s decision to take direct action may be the last straw for the US, undermining its American alliance and raising fears about China’s growing military clout.
Pyongyang, for its part, has never ruled out nuclear war if its own defense comes under threat from outside powers.
The subject of war was a constant presence on the Korean peninsula this year. The United Nations (UN) recently voted to impose new economic sanctions on North Korea over its nuclear and missile development.
Speaking to journalists on August 26th, Director General of Chinese Foreign Ministry’s international communications department Hua Chunying said: “I will say that today North Korea needs to realize the trend of history, realizing that there is only way to resolve this issue from the dialogue and negotiation point of view.”
By the end of the year, North Korea is also expected to complete its long-range ballistic missile development, which would be able to strike America’s heartland. Experts have warned that the country may even develop miniaturized nuclear warheads, making its threat more imminent.
The US Defense Department has already said it plans to make THAAD’s acquisition a permanent one. The US Air Force and Navy are now set to add to the system’s systems, completing the deployment to South Korea within the next few years.
The THAAD missile system was first tested in 2004. While the unit failed twice, the Pentagon decided to install it in South Korea anyway to deter North Korea’s military ambitions.