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US army secretary will focus on upgrading Patriot system in S. KoreaBy 이우영
Published : Aug. 2, 2016 - 20:13
The United States will focus on upgrading the Patriot PAC-2 missile systems in South Korea to the more advanced PAC-3 anti-missile shield to better protect the Seoul metropolitan areas by 2018, the U.S. Army's senior civilian official said Tuesday.
"Right now, we are focusing on upgrading the Patriot system that we have here in Korea," United States Secretary of the Army Eric Fanning told Yonhap News Agency in a group interview held in the Osan Air Base in Pyeongtaek, 70 kilometers south of Seoul.
He didn't specifically confirm local reports that Seoul and Washington are planning to replace the PAC-2 system currently in the country with the more lethal PAC-3 system by the end of 2018, although he hinted that such a move is likely.
"I have seen the potential for the upgrades," the 47-year-old official said during the interview while he visited the 35th Air Defense Artillery Brigade at the air base, adding that the change to a PAC-3 from PAC-2 will allow forces in the country to better cope with evolving nuclear and missile threats from North Korea.
As for growing threats from the North, the secretary expressed concerns about what is taking place on the Korean Peninsula, "which is why we have such a long-standing commitment to South Koreans and to hopefully adding to peace and stability on the peninsula."
Fanning, who arrived in South Korea on Monday for a three-day visit, has already been to Hawaii, Guam, Japan and Malaysia as part of his weekslong tour of military bases throughout the Pacific region.
In addition to the Patriot system and the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system that Seoul and Washington agreed to deploy in the country on July 8, he said U.S. Forces Korea and the Korean government have been talking about "other options" to defend the peninsula from missile attacks.
He didn't elaborate on details of what is being examined to defend South Koreans and U.S. soldiers and other assets.
Asked about local concerns of health risks that might be caused by the powerful radar used in the anti-missile defense system, he pointed out that examination of electromagnetic waves from the operational THAAD battery in Guam showed clearly it poses no problems. The U.S. allowed a group of Korean reporters to visit the U.S. territory and check the level of electromagnetic waves emanating from the AN/TPY-2 radar.
Despite the test results, residents in Seongju, 296 kilometers south of Seoul, have asked the deployment plan to be scrapped, saying that they cannot trust the results. Seoul had tapped the rural town as the site for South Korea's first THAAD battery last month, with the interceptor system to be operational by 2017.
Replying to a question about the THAAD's capability to intercept an incoming missile, he was confident in saying, "THAAD has tremendous capability in that regard."
The official brushed aside criticism by North Korea for the upcoming Ulchi Freedom Guardian exercise by saying that the allies have been conducting the drill for many years and that its sole purpose is to maintain peace and stability in the region.
The drills that kick off in mid-August are intended to examine Seoul and Washington's capability to protect South Korea fromexternal aggression and maintain close joint defense ties between the two allies. (Yonhap)
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