WASHINGTON: The U.S. military will deploy an additional 14 anti-missile interceptors in Alaska and a radar tracking station in Japan in response to a mounting threat from nuclear-armed North Korea, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said Friday.
The United States already has 30 interceptors in place in California and Alaska and the additional weaponry would be fielded by 2017, the Pentagon chief told reporters.
The move was designed to “stay ahead of the threat” posed by North Korea’s advances in technology toward an intercontinental ballistic missile, Hagel said.
“The United States has missile defense systems in place to protect us from limited ICBM [intercontinental ballistic missile] attacks, but North Korea in particular has recently made advances in its capabilities and is engaged in a series of irresponsible and reckless provocations,” he said.
North Korea has issued a wave of drastic threats in recent days and announced it has abandoned the 60-year-old armistice that ended the Korean War.
James Miller, defense undersecretary for policy, said in a speech Tuesday that the Pentagon had the ability to deploy up to 14 additional missile interceptors, “if needed.” He did not say in the speech that a decision had been made to do so.
Experts say North Korea is years away from being able to hit the continental United States with a nuclear weapon despite a decadeslong push toward a nuclear capability.
North Korea has missiles that can strike South Korea and Japan but has yet to demonstrate it has the capability to fire long-range ICBMs.
U.S. officials worry, however, that the North has made progress on that front, having put a satellite into orbit, while Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons program underlines concerns over the potential danger.
“As we think about our homeland missile-defense posture, we do not have a ‘just-in-time’ policy,” Miller said Tuesday. “Our policy is to stay ahead of the threat – and to continue to ensure that we are ahead of any potential future Iranian or North Korean ICBM capability.”
Miller noted that last December, North Korea launched a satellite into space, demonstrating its mastery of some of the same technologies required for development of an intercontinental ballistic missile.
“Our concern about Pyongyang’s potential ICBM capability is compounded by the regime’s focus on developing nuclear weapons. North Korea’s third nuclear test last month is obviously a serious concern for all nations,” he said.
North Korea has recently threatened to reduce Seoul to a “sea of fire” and stage pre-emptive nuclear attacks on Washington.
“North Korea’s shrill public pronouncements underscore the need for the U.S. to continue to take prudent steps to defeat any future North Korean ICBM,” Miller said.