OSAN AIR BASE, South Korea — You can tell which way is north here by the way the Patriot missiles are pointed.
Army Capt. Ryan Foxworth, commander of the Charlie Company battery of Patriot missiles, said Osan Air Base just received the most advanced Patriot in the past two months.
The new interceptor missile, known as Patriot PAC-3, is more accurate and has more range to better find and knock down incoming missiles or aircraft than its predecessor.
“Anything that flies the profile of a [tactical ballistic missile], we can track it,” Capt. Foxworth said in an interview at Osan. “And if we can track it, we can knock it down.”
Patriot units stand watch “24 hours a day, seven days a week,” he said, noting that Osan is only about 50 miles from North Korea.
The PAC-3 is capable of shooting down incoming North Korean Scud or its medium-range No-Dong missiles, Capt. Foxworth said. The Scud has a range of about 186 miles and the No-Dong can travel up to 620 miles.
In missile defense, the longer the range, the faster its warhead travels and the more difficult it is to shoot down.
Earlier versions, known as Patriot PAC-2, are mixed in with the two batteries now deployed at Osan, which is slated to become one of two southern hubs for U.S. troops withdrawn from areas near the demilitarized zone.
The PAC-3s were requested because of the threat of North Korean missile attack. They are smaller than the PAC-2. Sixteen missiles are fitted into each launcher. Only four can be placed in the PAC-2 launcher.
The new system is much more capable of spotting, tracking and hitting an incoming missile with a high-speed interceptor.
In addition to Osan, the Army has deployed PAC-2 and PAC-3 batteries at Camp Casey, a forward military base within about 12 miles of the demilitarized zone separating North Korea and South Korea.
Capt. Foxworth said other batteries are deployed at various military bases in the country.
Army Gen. Leon LaPorte said in an interview Monday that North Korea has about 800 missiles deployed within range of South Korea.
The Patriot system is made up of missile interceptors carried in tubes on truck launchers, along with a radar, communications antenna array and fire-control system, that are based on vehicles behind the interceptor batteries.
At Osan, the Patriots are deployed in a line along the northern edge of the runway, and near a weapons-storage depot.
Capt. Foxworth said there have been no close calls or indications of North Korea missile or test firings.
U.S. spy satellites first detect missile launches using infrared sensors. The launch information then is relayed to Patriot equipment. Missiles then are tracked by other sensors, and when it is close enough, a Patriot is launched to intercept it.
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said earlier during remarks to troops at Osan that the Patriot antimissile batteries are “needed and valuable and performed well in Iraq.”