Fore! South Korea golf course may get Thaad anti-missile battery

A Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) interceptor is launched during a successful intercept test in this undated photo released by the US Department of Defense.
A Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) interceptor is launched during a successful intercept test in this undated photo released by the US Department of Defense.PHOTO: REUTERS

SEOUL (Reuters) - South Korea's military aims to deploy an advanced US missile defence unit on a golf course, a defence ministry official said on Friday (Sept 30), after it had to scrap its initial site for the battery in the face of opposition from residents.

Tension on the Korean peninsula has been high this year, beginning with North Korea's fourth nuclear test in January, which was followed by a satellite launch, a string of tests of various missiles, and its fifth and largest nuclear test this month.

In July, South Korea agreed with the United States that a US Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (Thaad) anti-missile unit would be deployed in the Seongju region, southeast of the capital, Seoul, to defend the country.

But residents of the melon-farming area protested over worries about the safety of the system's powerful radar and the likelihood it would be a target for North Korea, which warned of retaliation, if war broke out.

The plan to deploy the system has also angered China, which worries that the Thaad's powerful radar would compromise its security.

The new site for the missile battery would be a golf course at the high-end Lotte Skyhill Seongju Country Club, the ministry official said told Reuters, confirming media reports.

The club is owned by the Lotte Group conglomerate and had been considered as an alternative due to its high altitude and accessibility for military vehicles, the defence official said.

It was not clear how the military would acquire the property, reportedly worth about 100 billion won (S$124 million).

"We will positively consider the deployment of Thaad at the golf course considering the grave situation regarding national security," Kim Byung Wook, an official at the club, told Reuters by phone.

He said the company had received a notice from the defence ministry about the plan on Thursday.

The United States said this week that it would speed up deployment of the system given the pace of North Korea's missile tests, and it would be stationed in South Korea "as soon as possible".

On Thursday, China again warned against the deployment, saying it "means what it says" when it says it will consider countermeasures.

The United States and South Korea have said Thaad does not threaten China's security or target any country other than North Korea.

The military analysed three possible locations for the system and found the golf course to be the most feasible, the defence official said, as the other two would require additional engineering which would delay the deployment.

The official declined to be identified as he is not authorised to speak to media.