Kim Jong-un Ascent Increases ‘Miscalculation’ Odds, Thurman Says
“Although little is known of the son, there is no evidence to suggest his decision-making will differ significantly from his father or that his strategic priorities will change,” Army General James Thurman said in written answers to the Senate Armed Services Committee today.
The White House has nominated Thurman to succeed the current commander, General Walter Sharp. Thurman is commander of U.S. Army Forces Command. His nomination “comes at a time of significant change and simmering tensions on the Korean Peninsula,” committee Chairman Senator Carl Levin said today.
Thurman said that the son’s youth -- he is believed to be about 27 -- “and inexperience increase the likelihood of miscalculation as does the imperative for him to establish credibility with military hardliners he needs.”
“These factors make him less predictable in the near term,” Thurman said. “Our primary concern is the potential for additional North Korean provocations, which is a tool of choice as part of its coercive diplomacy.”
Sharp in April testimony to the House and Senate armed services committees said Kim’s succession plans “appear to be accelerating.”
Kim Jong-un Promoted
Kim Jong-un in September was publicly promoted to a four- star general in North Korea’s People’s Army and appointed as vice chairman of the Korean Worker’s Party Central Military Commission.
Among most of the recent provocations: a North Korean mini- submarine is said by South Korean and U.S. officials to have sunk in March, 2010, the South Korean warship Cheonan. The following month, South Korea detained two North Koreans whom they suspected were assassins on a mission to kill North Korea’s most senior defector.
North Korea shelled the South’s Yeonpyeong island in November, precipitating another crisis.
Thurman in his written statement disclosed that South Korea and the U.S. still do not have an integrated, “layered” air defense of overlapping missile systems needed to intercept North Korean missiles during different flight paths.
No ‘Layered Defense’
“Although there is more than one missile system in the Republic of Korea, they are not mutually supporting nor do they provide layered defense,” Thurman wrote.
Both U.S. and Korean armies possess Lockheed Martin Corp (LMT).- Raytheon Co. (RTN) early version Patriot and the latest version Patriot-3 missiles that are capable of intercepting missiles during their descent, or “terminal” phase, he said.
Still, the Republic of Korea Patriots by themselves “provide very limited defense capability,” Thurman wrote. The U.S. still hasn’t delivered to the South Koreans increased quantities of Pac-3 and improved early model Patriots that the Pentagon directed in 2008 for deployment, he said.
“To date, the designated number of munitions have not been provided to U.S. forces” in South Korea, Thurman said.
Thurman singled out Lockheed Martin’s Terminal High Altitude Air Defense Missile as the system that “would best support the layered defense principle.” The new missile is capable of intercepting targets either in their “mid-course” flight path or during descent.
“A Thaad system could be used to provide layered defense and improve early warning for the Korean Peninsula as well as enhance missile defense early warning in the region,” he wrote.
The U.S. Army has taken delivery of its first Thaad missiles, which have been months late because of production delays to fix a safety device.
North Korea has an inventory of more than 800 missiles and continues to build short- and medium-range weapons “of increasing range and accuracy,” Thurman said. South Korea also faces “possible fielding” of a new intermediate-range missile and North Korea “grows closer to threatening the western United States and striking Alaska,” he said.