The U.S. missile shield set up during the last few months in South Korea is now officially fully operational and under the command of joint military forces.
The THAAD missile defense system was set up in April in South Korea to offer protection against the threat of ballistic missiles from North Korea.
On Oct. 19 an official ceremony marked the transfer of the missile unit from U.S. Command to that of the joint U.S.-South Korean command force—the USFK.
It adopted the name Combined Task Force Defender to reflect the new mission, according to a U.S. Army report, and will also include South Korean soldiers.
South Korea announced in September that the deployment of a THAAD battery in the county had been completed in a “tentative” step to counter threats from North Korea.
According to South Korea news agency Yonhap, the battery has been operational, but the military unit and manpower operating it has not fully been in place.
The Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) battery consists of missile launchers, command and control facilities, and a powerful radar.
However, the shield system would not be able to shoot down intercontinental ballistic nuclear missiles, which have been threatened by North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
The two batteries of THAAD missiles were deployed in May before the full installation was halted due to an uproar in Beijing over the presence of the U.S. missile defense system and radars so close to its border.
South Korea claimed the halt was to conduct an environmental assessment of the installation area.
But as tensions have mounted between the United States and North Korea, the Chinese regime’s anger has diminished in importance next to South Korea’s physical security.
Four more interceptor launchers were added last month, according to Yonhap.
THAAD targets slower incoming ballistic missiles both inside and just outside the atmosphere, and is described by the MDA as “highly effective against the asymmetric ballistic missile threats.”
THAAD doesn’t use explosives but uses kinetic energy to destroy incoming warheads.
The system was first tested in 2005 and since then has 15 out of 15 successful field tests under its belt.
In July THAAD successfully intercepted and destroyed an intermediate-range ballistic missile (IRBM).
It was the first time THAAD had been tested against an IRBM, having previously taken down several shorter-range missiles.
Yvonne Chiu, an expert on military policy, told CNN that because the THAAD interceptors are “potentially safer” and less likely to cause a nuclear explosion.
“If you hit a nuclear ballistic missile with a missile with no warhead, it would hopefully not cause a nuclear explosion,” she said.
Capt. Jonathon Daniell wrote in an article published on the Army’s official website, “The ROK-U.S. alliance are now better resourced to respond to a tactical ballistic missile threat.”