The United States is scouting for potential locations on its West Coast to deploy new anti-missile defenses, including the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) anti-ballistic missiles, two Congressmen revealed on Saturday according to Reuters.
The move comes amid growing concern over North Korea’s missile launches and its recent claims that its latest missiles could reach the US mainland.
THAAD anti-ballistic missiles are similar to those deployed in South Korea to protect against a potential North Korean attack.
On Wednesday, North Korea tested a new type of intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) that can fly over 13,000 km (8,080 miles), placing Washington within target range, South Korea said on Friday.
Congressman Mike Rogers, who sits on the House Armed Services Committee and chairs the Strategic Forces Subcommittee which oversees missile defense, said the Missile Defense Agency (MDA), was aiming to install extra defenses at West Coast sites. The funding for the system does not appear in the 2018 defense budget plan indicating potential deployment is further off.
“It’s just a matter of the location, and the MDA making a recommendation as to which site meets their criteria for location, but also the environmental impact,” the Alabama Congressman and Republican told Reuters during an interview on the sidelines of the annual Reagan National Defense Forum in southern California.
When asked about the plan, MDA Deputy Director Rear Admiral Jon Hill said in a statement: “The Missile Defense Agency has received no tasking to site the Terminal High Altitude Air Defense System on the West Coast.”
The MDA is a unit of the US Defense Department.
Congressman Rogers did not reveal the exact locations the agency is considering but said several sites are “competing” for the missile defense installations.
Rogers and Congressman Adam Smith, a Democrat representing the 9th District of Washington, said the government was considering installing the THAAD anti-missile system made by aerospace giant Lockheed Martin Corp, at west coast sites.
The Congressmen said the number of sites that may ultimately be deployed had yet to be determined.
THAAD is a ground-based regional missile defense system designed to shoot down short-, medium- and intermediate-range ballistic missiles and takes only a matter of weeks to install.
In addition to the two THAAD systems deployed in South Korea and Guam in the Pacific, the US has seven other THAAD systems. While some of the existing missiles are based in Fort Bliss, Texas, the system is highly mobile and current locations are not disclosed.
A Lockheed Martin representative declined to comment on specific THAAD deployments, but added that the company “is ready to support the Missile Defense Agency and the United States government in their ballistic missile defense efforts.” He added that testing and deployment of assets is a government decision, said Reuters.
In July, the United States tested THAAD missile defenses and shot down a simulated, incoming intermediate-range ballistic missile (IRBM). The successful test adds to the credibility of the US military’s missile defense program, which has come under intense scrutiny in recent years due in part to test delays and failures.
Currently, the continental United States is primarily shielded by the Ground-based Midcourse Defense system (GMD) in Alaska and California as well as the Aegis system deployed aboard US Navy ships. The THAAD system has a far higher testing success rate than the GMD.
The MDA told Congress in June that it planned to deliver 52 more THAAD interceptors to the US Army between October 2017 and September 2018, bringing total deliveries to 210 since May 2011.