by Riki Ellison

As the Chinese New Year begins with the Year of the Monkey, satellite images from February 14, 2016, show two batteries of eight HQ-9 missile launchers and a radar system that China has deployed on the disputed Woody/Yongxing Island in the Paracel Island chain. This week, more satellite images taken of the disputed islands show that China have deployed a high frequency radar to monitor ship and aircraft approaching the islands along with Chinese fighter aircraft Shenyang J-11s (“Flanker”) and Xian JH-7s (“Flounder”) being seen by U.S. intelligence on Woody Island.

This arrogance matched with deceptiveness and reckless behavior brings escalating instability that remains unchecked by the international community and the President of the United States thereby validating unilateral strategic power grab as a legitimate policy for the Chinese and in a way reflecting the negative traits of the symbol of the Chinese New Year.

In Washington, China’s recent provocations are a major source of concern, as demonstrated by a statement from Secretary of State John Kerry, who stated, “There is every evidence, every day, that there has been an increase of militarization of one kind or another. It’s of a serious concern.”

In an attempt to manipulate the Republic of Korea (ROK) and in hopes of welding a subservient proxy nation to further their interests in the region, the Chinese have overtly challenged the decision of the ROK to open a dialogue with the United States for the deployment of a Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) battery in South Korea to defend against the ballistic missile threat is fast becoming nuclear from North Korea. This highly suspicious action by the Chinese comes at the apex of a far more critical mass of public opinion in Korea and Japan in their outcry against an extremely serious threat in capability and intent demonstrated by North Korea following their satellite launch on February 7, in defiance of United Nations resolution intended to prevent the development of DPRK ballistic missile technology.

In a display of hypocrisy, China looks to continue to deploy these offensive weapons to the contested islands as it challenges the U.S. and ROK on the deployment of THAAD, which is a purely defensive capability to defend against the North Korean threat. China’s militarization of the South China Sea to upset and upend the status quo in their unilateral overarching quest to become the middle kingdom will fuel the escalation and instability of the Pacific region at a time when Beijing should be the leader and cooperate with the United States and Japan to help halt and curb North Korea’s nuclear ambitions.

North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un has vowed to continue testing that will enable him to miniaturize nuclear weapons to be placed on ballistic missiles. Following the January 2016 nuclear test, South Korea’s foreign minister, Yun Byung-Se, warned of a possible 5th or 6th test if China didn’t join in decisive action to “punish” the North. There are nearly 50 million people in the Republic of Korea that would be directly threatened by North Korean short and medium range nuclear ballistic missiles. Today in South Korea, there is no overall defensive protection for the mass population and territory against nuclear ballistic missiles. THAAD provides the solution for South Korea, a proven system and a layered defense in space as well as in the high atmosphere that provides multiple intercept opportunities against North Korean Ballistic Missiles.

There is no other missile defense system in the world today that can protect and defend the Republic of Korea against a nuclear ballistic missile threat of what a THAAD system can do and encompasses in coverage and capability. There are currently five THAAD batteries based out of Fort Bliss, Texas with one of these THAAD batteries deployed today to defend the population and island of Guam from North Korea ballistic missiles. The THAAD system comes with a powerful AN/TPY-2 X-band Radar to track, discriminate target and process in real time firing solutions with its battery of interceptors multiple ballistic missile threats from all ranges into its defended area. An operational THAAD coupled with a TPY-2 radar placed in Korea or anywhere else in the world, does not have the mode nor the power to project beyond its mission to process thousands of objects into another region for early warning or tracking as the Chinese incorrectly assume. Those type of TPY-2 X-Band radars are separate from a THAAD firing unit and are in a forward operating role of early warning and tracking that uses all their power to look far forward for early warning of limited objects. They are currently deployed in Japan, Turkey, Israel and the Middle East and are not to be confused with the firing target processor radar that is coupled with the THAAD interceptor system.

All of the current lower tier missile defense systems made up of U.S. and ROK Patriot missile defense battalions deployed in South Korea are point defenses that defend very small areas such as a few city blocks and airfields by intercepting inside of the atmosphere lower than what the THAAD system does. These very limited number of Patriot batteries are defending a limited ROK and US critical defended asset list that are ranked in priority and cannot defend the bulk of the population and the vast areas of the country itself.

When defending against nuclear ballistic missiles, it is the ideal to intercept them as high and as far away as possible as well as have multiple shot opportunities in a layered approach to provide the best possible defense for the population and large region below. In order to best defend the ROK territory and its 50 million people from North Korean nuclear ballistic missiles, South Korea must have a THAAD system in place to provide a multi layered missile defense in the defense of its government and people.

Though the Chinese are taking advantage of a lack of strong leadership in the Pacific, whether China likes it or not, the U.S., South Korea and Japan are determined and are not monkeying around on missile defense.

Riki Ellison is Chairman and Founder of Missile Defense Advocacy Alliance