(ATTN: ADDS further MDA Director Syring's comments throughout, background)
By Choi Kyong-ae
SEOUL, Aug. 11 (Yonhap) -- The United States will carry out an interception test against Musudan-type intermediate-range ballistic missiles (IRBM) next year with its advanced missile defense system, following successful trials on short and mid-range missiles, Washington's missile defense chief said Thursday.
"And that (short-range and mid-range) testings have been done over period of years and as that success has been achieved (with missile defense shield), we move on to longer-range tests," U.S. Missile Defense Agency (MDA) Director Vice Admiral James D. Syring said in a group interview with local reporters at South Korea's Joint Chiefs of Staff headquarters in Seoul.
The agency chief said next year, the U.S. will test the Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system against IRBMs to better counter the growing threats from North Korea in the Indo-Asia Pacific region.
North Korea's Musudan missiles are IRBM with a range of more than 3,000 kilometers and a capability of striking the U.S. territory of Guam and Japan.
Syring came to Seoul on Wednesday night not only to explain the technical and safety aspects of the THAAD system to South Koreans through local media but also to discuss follow-up measures with military officials here for the planned deployment in Seongju, 296 kilometers southeast of Seoul, by the end of 2017.
His visit is seen as part of joint efforts by Seoul and Washington to allay concerns lingering among Seongju residents over possible health risks linked to the system's powerful X-band radar.
THAAD has been assesssed to pose no adverse impacts to air quality, birds and mammals, soil and water resources. The U.S. will be in close coordination with Gen. Vincent Brooks in charge of the U.S. Forces Korea in preparation for deployment, he said.
"AN/TPY-2 radars (that comes with THAAD) have been deployed. We have population centers close by in several of the radar cases that operate and have been operating for up to a decade safely and without incident," Syring said.
He said that the United States will conduct the same kind of studies to see what impact the battery will have on the surrounding area, and emphasized that this screening process will be the same as what was carried out in the past when the THAAD system was set up in Guam.
On top of the system's safety aspects, the director stressed its technological prowess in countering missile attacks. The system has a radar range of beyond 1,000 kilometers in the forward-based mode (FBM) though it has a less range in terminal mode (TM).
"THAAD is a proven capability. The system has successfully intercepted targets in 13 of the 13 tests. THAAD is strictly a defensive system. It employs an interceptor with hit-to-kill technology that destroys potentially incoming North Korean missiles," he said.
Of the 13 intercept tests, six of them have been against targets that replicate North Korean missile threats. In its increased sabre-rattling, North Korea has mainly test-fired short-range Scud and mid-range Rodong ballistic missiles while carrying out four nuclear tests.
As for speculations that South Korea will be integrated into the U.S. missile defense (MD) system ultimately, he dismissed the possibility.
"The THAAD deployment is strictly a U.S.-ROK alliance issue, in terms of information sharing. It will not be part of a wider missile defense network that MDA has developed and the combatant commands around the world utilize, said Syring. "It will be solely for the purpose of the defense of the Republic of Korea. And it will not be shared with Guam or any other part of the ballistic missile defense system."
There will be no information sharing between the U.S. and Japan from THAAD operations in South Korea, either, said Syring.
The director went further to say, "There are no discussions or any formal dialogue ongoing with the government of Japan on THAAD deployment.”
He also denied any link to a wider purpose through U.S. Command, Control, Battle Management, & Communications (C2BMC), saying it is just not the case.
The U.S. has long desired to deploy THAAD to the South, but Seoul has wavered over whether to accept the deployment due to strong objections from China that claimed the TPY-2 radar could be used to spy on its military activities and facilities.
But the North's fourth nuclear test in January and the long-range rocket launch the following month resulted in the July 8 announcement by Seoul and Washington for the deployment of a THAAD battery here. In March, the U.N. Security Council imposed its toughest-ever sanctions on North Korea for the tests.
In an apparent effort to ease such worries from China, Syring said that the system is designed to intercept North Korean ballistic missiles, not designed against China. The system "never has been and never will" be used against China.
"We don't defend against China as a threat," he said.