The US is considering the deployment of one of its Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) batteries in the Middle East. The Western superpower currently has four such batteries in active duty around the world, with a fifth set to start training this year.
According to Gen. Vincent Brooks, head of the US. Army Pacific Command, no decision has yet been made on deployment there or in South Korea, another potential danger zone.
“The need is there in…those two places, urgently, because we have adversaries who have capability and they have demonstrated that they are willing to use it,” Brooks told Reuters in an interview.
The THAAD system is expensive, says Brooks, so the US military must weigh its options carefully. The country is also continuing to explore less costly defense options for less pressing threats.
“They have to decide where the need is greatest,” said one congressional aide, as the US prepares to swap out its THAAD system in Guam. “The question is, what does the Central Command commander need to protect U.S. forces?”
The commander of US troops stationed in South Korea in June claimed he suggested deploying in South Korea to counter the threat of a nuclear-armed North Korea. However, critics are concerned this could aggravate China and Russia, who would consider the move to be against their own security interests. US Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken said last month that South Korea was not under active consideration for the THAAD battery.
American defense technology company Lockheed-Martin, which developed the THAAD battery, will begin delivery of a system to the United Arab Emirates, under a $1.96 billion sale first announced in December 2011, but it will take another year for it to be fully operational. The company hopes to make similar deals with Qatar and Saudi Arabia. The Qatar deal is already in the works.
Riki Ellison, founder of the nonprofit Missile Defense Advocacy Alliance, said putting a THAAD system in the Middle East would help cover potential gaps in the existing missile defense the area, but sources in the know said regional deployment was likely not imminent.