The U.S. military began rolling heavy equipment onto a golf course south of Seoul on Thursday to prepare for the installation of the THAAD anti-missile system opposed by China and seen as a provocation by North Korea.
South Korea’s Defense Ministry said in a statement that the “government today granted about 300,000 square meters of land, in Seongju County, North Gyeongsang Province, to U.S. Forces-Korea.”
The land had been owned by the Lotte Group retail conglomerate, which has been slapped with sanctions by China, and was the site of the Sky Hill Country Club and its golf course.
Components of Lockheed Martin’s hit-to-kill Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system began arriving at Osan Air Base in early March. South Korean military officials said at the time that THAAD could go operational in April, but the caretaker government in Seoul since the impeachment of President Park Geun-hye has held off on the land deal.
On his trip to South Korea last weekend, Vice President Mike Pence said that activation of THAAD would have to await the May 9 presidential election. “It should be a decision for the next president,” said a White House official traveling with Pence.
Current front-runner Moon Jae-in has said that as president he would review the decision to deploy THAAD. The arguments for and against the placement of THAAD to guard against North Korea’s growing missile threat have been ongoing for more than a year.
In February 2016, the U.S. and South Korean militaries agreed on the “earliest possible” deployment of THAAD, triggering protests from China over the system’s powerful X-band AN/TPY-2 radar (Army/Navy Transportable Radar Surveillance), made by Raytheon.
The radar’s main job is in what is called “terminal mode,” meaning that its mission is to “detect, acquire, track and discriminate ballistic missiles in the terminal [descent] phase of flight,” according to Raytheon. The terminal-mode AN/TPY-2 then directs the THAAD ballistic missile defense system by guiding the missile to intercept a threat.
The AN/TPY-2 radar can also be used in the “forward-based mode,” which is what concerns China. When forward based, “the radar is positioned near hostile territory, and acquires ballistic missiles in the boost [ascent] phase of flight,” Raytheon said. China’s People’s Liberation Army Daily has warned that the radar could be used to peer into China to spy on military activity.
THAAD’s placement has also been controversial in South Korea. Residents of Seongju, where the system is to be installed, last month held a demonstration that blocked roads leading to the site. Polls in South Korea show only a slight majority in favor of THAAD deployment.