Story highlights

THAAD can target short, medium and intermediate ballistic missiles in flight

North Korea claimed to have successfully put Earth Observation satellite into orbit Sunday

Launch viewed as "strategic provocation" by South Korea, U.S.

Seoul CNN  — 

South Korea and the U.S. are to formally discuss deploying the THAAD missile defense system, after North Korea claimed to have successfully launched a satellite into space.

THAAD is an acronym for the U.S.-made Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system, which can target short, medium and intermediate ballistic missiles in flight.

The North Korean launch of the carrier rocket Kwangmyongsong Sunday, carrying Earth Observation satellite Kwangmyongsong-4, was a “strategic provocation,” said Yoo Jeh-seung, head of Defense Planning, South Korean Defense Ministry.

“The Republic of Korea and the U.S. assesses that North Korea’s nuclear test and its long-range missile test is a severe threat against peace and stability of Republic of Korea and Asia Pacific Region,” Yoo said.

“In response to the increasing North Korea’s threat, ROK and the U.S. will officially discuss deploying THAAD to U.S. Forces in Korea to improve its missile defense posture,” he added.

A file image of the "THAAD" anti-missile defense rocket.

In a statement, Pyongyang said the satellite was fitted with “measuring apparatuses and telecommunications apparatuses needed for observing the earth.” It said the launch was part of its “five-year program for national aerospace development.”

Veiled missile test?

However, it was viewed by other nations, such as Japan and South Korea, as a front for a ballistic missile test, especially coming on the heels of North Korea’s purported hydrogen bomb test last month.

“North Korea continues to develop their nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs, and it is the responsibility of our Alliance to maintain a strong defense against those threats,” said Gen. Curtis M. Scaparrotti, Combined Forces Command, U.S. Forces Korea commander.

“THAAD can add an important capability in a layered and effective missile defense.”

China has previously been outspoken in opposing deployment of the system, which it is worried could be used against its own launch systems.

“If the THAAD system were deployed to the Korean Peninsula, it would be focused solely on North Korea and contribute to a layered missile defense that would enhance the Alliance’s existing missile defense capabilities against potential North Korean missile threats,” U.S. Forces Korea said in a press statement released Sunday.