The South Korean defense ministry will begin a full environmental impact assessment of the deployment of the U.S. Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) missile defense system, delaying the deployment of four additional launchers.

 This decision Wednesday by the South Korean presidential office, the Blue House, comes after it conducted a probe looking into why a report that four additional THAAD interceptors entering the country did not reach the president (Defense Daily, May 31).

A Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) battery fires an interceptor missile. Photo: Lockheed Martin.
A Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) battery fires an interceptor missile. Photo: Lockheed Martin.

The probe found the deputy defense minister for policy intentionally ordered a section on the launchers deleted from the ministry’s initial report to the presidential office and its de facto transition team, a presidential spokesperson said June 5.

Blue House officials now say the additional four THAAD interceptors not yet deployed will wait until a full environmental impact assessment for the system is complete.

The president’s office also said it will begin a second investigation to confirm that the defense ministry also attempted to make the THAAD program appear smaller to keep it from public scrutiny and an environmental impact.

A Yonhap News Agency report said the defense official who made the order apparently cited an agreement with the U.S. to keep details of the THAAD program secret from the media and public.

Wee, the defense policy official, “explained the two THAAD launchers already deployed had been open to the public, but that the government agreed with the United States not to make public the delivery of four additional launchers into the country, and so he ordered that part to be deleted from the report (to the presidential office),” a presidential spokesman said at a press briefing.

The ministry official reportedly claimed he planned to report the delivery in person, but no officials at the Blue House acknowledged receiving the report. Wee has been relieved of duty.

The Blue House said the THAAD deployment will now be the subject of an environmental impact assessment. Generally, defense programs require the assessment if the area concerned is over 330,000 square meters. The Yonhap report said the defense ministry agreed to provide 690,000 square meters of land, but in smaller increments below the limit, thus requiring a smaller informal assessment.

Now “President Moon told the defense ministry to carry out the due process to evaluate the environmental impact as required by the law to secure the procedural legitimacy of the deployment that every citizen could accept,” a spokesman said.

Although the THAAD battery housing is 80,000 square meters, the report noted a Blue House official said, “Not only the area actually taken up by THAAD radar and launchers, but the entire area provided (by Seoul) should be considered the area affected by the military program.”

The commander of the U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command, Army Forces Strategic Command, and Joint Functional Component Command for Integrated Missile Defense said in a hearing today that the U.S. Defense Department is working with South Korea to operationalize the THAAD unit this year.

Lt. Gen. James Dickinson told the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Strategic Forces that the U.S. plans to position the unit’s supporting infrastructure within an existing U.S. Army Garrison Korea footprint to minimize costs.

The prime contractor for THAAD is Lockheed Martin [LMT] and it uses the Raytheon [RTN] AN/TPY-2 x-band radar to track ballistic missiles.