(ATTN: ADDS more details, quotes in paras 4-7, last 4 paras)
By Chang Jae-soon
WASHINGTON, Oct. 29 (Yonhap) — Both formal and informal discussions are underway between South Korea and the United States about the possible deployment of a THAAD missile defense battery to the South, a senior Lockheed Martin official said Thursday.
Mike Trotsky, vice president of air and missile defense at Lockheed Martin, made the remark during a National Press Club news conference, ahead of U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter’s trip to South Korea for the annual defense ministers’ talks.
“The THAAD system is the subject of a policy discussion between the United States and the Republic of South Korea. Those policy discussions are ongoing now,” Trotsky told reporters.
“As those discussions evolve, if there is an interest on the part of both countries to do something with THADD, then of course, Lockheed Martin will enthusiastically support it,” he said. He also said the discussions are at “a very beginning state.”
Trotsky also said the two sides are having “both formal and informal discussions” on the issue. He said, however, that Lockheed Martin is not yet involved in any discussions with either government, and will wait for the two governments to reach a decision.
Comments from the U.S. Defense Department were not immediately available.
THAAD, which stands for Terminal High Altitude Area Defense, is considered one of the most advanced missile defense systems in the world, and is manufactured by Lockheed Martin.
The U.S. wants to deploy a THAAD unit to South Korea, where some 28,500 American troops are stationed, to better defend against ever-growing threats from North Korea’s ballistic missile and nuclear programs.
But the issue has become one of the most sensitive for South Korea because China sees a THAAD deployment as a threat to their security interests and has increased pressure on Seoul to reject such a move.
Seoul and Washington have repeatedly claimed they have never held any formal consultations on the issue.
Trotsky said the U.S. missile defense system is designed in a layered architecture consisting of sea-based Aegis weapon systems, THAAD systems, and Patriot systems to ensure that enemy attacks won’t penetrate all those layers. Such a layered system is also necessary for South Korea, he said.
“So, having those layers makes it extremely difficult for the enemy to deploy any one technique that would defeat all three systems,” he said. “In a country like Korea, it might make sense to have more than one layer, to have a multi-layer system that is comprised of THAAD and PAC-3 or Aegis weapons system and PAC-3.”
The official also stressed that THAAD is a purely defensive system.
“It can’t be used in an offensive way. The entire system, from the hardware to the software, must have an incoming ballistic missile to launch an interceptor,” he said. “It’s a defensive weapons system. It would have to be completely redesigned to operate as an offensive weapons system.”