According to South Korean defense officials, the MIM-104 Patriot missile defense systems currently deployed in the Korean Peninsula may not be capable of intercepting the missiles tested this week by North Korea. The analysis is leading Seoul to push even harder for deployment of the more advanced but controversial American THAAD missile defense system. Joongang Daily reports (our translation):
According to a defense ministry source, “when considering the missile reached an altitude of 1413.6km, the per second distance achieved by the missile was 3759.6m”, 11.3 times the speed of sound.” The military has determined that the missile recorded a top speed up of Mach 17. Based on the description provided the military, a Patriot missiles that travels five times the speed of sound at an altitude of 4okm can not intercept the [North Korean] missile.
Another military official said, “the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system, flying at a speed of Mach 7, is able to intercept [missiles travelling] up to Mach 14. Since the Musudan missile speed is within the Mach 14, interception is possible.”
The assessments were echoed soon after by South Korean Defense Minister Han Min Goo during a press conference: “Generally, THAAD has been assessed to be capable of intercept”.
Members of the Korean opposition and other analysts have questioned whether THAAD’s effectiveness is being overstated. Meanwhile, others have accused the defense ministry of using scare tactics aimed to “create the atmosphere” that makes deployment of THAAD, which has been held back by Chinese opposition, more likely. Nevertheless, if South Korea’s analysis of existing capabilities holds, then look for pressure to grow for the U.S. to move ahead with deployment.