Thursday, July 21, 2016

US shows South Korea the THAAD battery on Guam, say it's safe

Posted on : Jul.19,2016 17:52 KSTModified on : Jul.19,2016 17:52 KST
Officials from South Korea’s Ministry of National Defense and reporters assigned to the ministry measure electromagnetic waves from a THAAD radar, in Guam, July 18. (provided by the US Air Force 36th Contingency Response Group)

While on tour, US officers say THAAD is safe, but don’t get into specifics about the system’s efficacy

On July 18, an American officer with Task Force Talon was emphasizing to visiting South Korean reporters the safety of the US missile defense system known as THAAD (Terminal High Altitude Area Defense). The task force is responsible for operating the THAAD battery located on Site Armadillo, on the Pacific island of Guam.

“The angle at which the THAAD radar emits beams is higher than ground level. Anywhere beyond the off-limits area of 100 meters is safe,” the official said.
On Monday, the US military opened up the THAAD base on Guam to a group of South Korean reporters assigned to the Ministry of National Defense. The event was organized by South Korea‘s Ministry of Defense with the cooperation of the US military in an attempt to dispel growing concerns in South Korea about the health effects of the electromagnetic waves emitted by the THAAD’s AN/TPY-2 X-band radar, following the government’s decision to deploy the missile defense system in Seongju, North Gyeongsang Province.
This was the second such measure taken by the Ministry, after it allowed access to a Patriot missile base in the vicinity of Seoul and a Green Pine radar station in Chungcheong Province on July 14.
This is the first time that the US military has given foreign journalists access to a THAAD battery. The fact that the US military permitted such an unprecedented tour - and on such short notice - indicates that the US military is also taking quite seriously the controversy in South Korean society about THAAD’s safety.
The point to which the Defense Ministry devoted the most attention during the event on Monday was on-site measurements of electromagnetic waves from the THAAD radar.
In front of the THAAD battery, which is located on the northern end of Guam, there are about 2km of woods. In this area, there are a few military facilities, but no private residences.
The electromagnetic waves were measured at a military training camp located 1.6km away from the THAAD radar. This is comparable to the distance between the proposed site of the THAAD battery in Seongju and the closest civilian residence.
While the measurement was taking place, numbers on the device jumped up and down. Afterward, the South Korean air force officer in charge of the measurements showed the findings to reporters. “During the six minutes that we measured the electromagnetic waves, the maximum measurement was 0.0007 W/ per square meter and the average was 0.0003 W/ per square meter,” the officer said. “That’s just 0.007% of the permitted baseline of 10W per square meter.”
An American officer who was standing to the side pointed to a few civilian contractors who were doing construction work around the training site. “If the electromagnetic waves were dangerous, people wouldn’t be able to do construction work here,” the officer said.
Another American officer drew a sketch to show that the electromagnetic waves were not harmful.
“The radar beams typically are emitted at an angle of five degrees or more. At this angle, the beam will be 8.75 meters high after 100 meters, 43 meters high after 500 meters, 314 meters high after 3,500 meters and 837 meters high after 5,500 meters,” the officer said. “If the radar is installed at a height of 350 meters, the beam will be that much higher, so the electromagnetic waves will have virtually no effect at ground level.”
In the operations area - where the THAAD fire control and communications unit, radar and generator truck were located - there was a deafening roar. It was so loud that I had to put in the earplugs I had brought as we toured the facilities.
The noise was coming from the generator, but when we moved to the missile launcher, which was about 500 meters away, there was hardly any noise at all.
“When we switch to commercial electricity and use the generator truck as a backup, it won’t be so noisy,” said an American officer. “In Seongju, South Korea, the battery will be using commercial electricity, so noise will hardly be an issue.”
Members of the US military declared on multiple occasions that the THAAD battery that will be deployed in Seongju is not aimed at China. “In order to counter a new threat, we would have to turn the battery in that direction, but that wouldn’t be an easy task,” said the American officer who is in charge of operating the THAAD battery. The officer explained that, since the THAAD battery in Seongju will be facing North Korea, it could not be quickly reoriented toward a specific part of China.
But the American officers mostly shied away from providing specific information about THAAD’s performance, citing “operational security.”
When asked whether THAAD could tell apart decoys released from a North Korean Musudan missile, an American officer declined to answer. “We’re not supposed to get into the specifics about how we deal with enemy threats,” the officer said.
The same applied to the capability of the THAAD radar. “For operational security reasons, I can’t tell you at which specific point on a Musudan missile’s course the missile is detected,” the officer said.
Robert F. Hedelund, FKJ5 (Strategy and Policy) Director, who came along for the tour, fielded a question about why Seongju was selected as the site to deploy THAAD. “It was selected in consideration of a number of factors, including operational effectiveness, defense range, safety, environment and health,” Hedelund said. “As for the details about why Seongju provides operational effectiveness, that’s not something I can talk about on the record.”
By Park Byong-su, senior staff writer on Guam
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