U.S. to Boost Missile Defenses in Response to North Korea
By DON NISSENBAUM and JULIAN E. BARNES
WASHINGTON—The Pentagon is preparing to strengthen its missile-defense systems on the West Coast in response to increased threats from North Korea and rising tensions on the Korean peninsula.
The U.S. plans to boost its ground-based missile interceptors in Alaska and California by nearly 50%, adding 14 additional systems at Fort Greely, Alaska, to the 30 already in place on the West Coast, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced Friday. The interceptors, which will cost about $1 billion, should be in place by 2017.
Mr. Hagel did not say when the Pentagon believes North Korea will have an ICBM that can carry a nuclear warhead, but said the Pentagon would stay ahead of Pyongyang’s military developments.
Pentagon officials cited recent developments in North Korea—a long-range missile test, a nuclear test and demonstration of a mobile launcher —that suggested the country’s missile technology is advancing faster than earlier predicted.
“The United States has missile defense systems in place to protect us from limited ICBM attacks, but North Korea in particular has recently made advances in its capabilities and is engaged in a series of irresponsible and reckless provocations,” Mr. Hagel said.
The administration decision to beef up the missile defense system comes four years after President Barack Obama put a hold on the plan after taking office. Republican lawmakers said Friday they agreed with the enhancements, but said the administration was wrong to freeze the system in 2009.
“Four years ago, the Obama administration began to unilaterally disarm our defenses and deterrent in the hope our enemies would follow suit,” said Rep. Mike Rogers (R., Ala.), chairman of the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Strategic Forces. “President Obama is finally realizing what President Reagan taught us 30 years ago—the best way to keep the peace is through strength.”
Responding to the criticism, James Miller, undersecretary of defense for policy, the U.S. approach is to “stay ahead of the threat,” based on North Korean capabilities and not on the regime’s rhetoric or intent.
Adm. James Winnefeld, the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said that the system was meant to dissuade North Korea’s new leader, Kim Jong Eun, from toying with the idea of an attack.
“We believe this young lad ought to be deterred…and if he is not, we will be ready,” Adm. Winnefeld said.
The U.S. interceptors have failed in some recent tests, with the last fully successful test occurring in 2008. Mr. Hagel said the U.S. wouldn’t purchase the new weapons until there are successful tests of the interceptors. Interceptors are vehicles that are launched to intercept intercontinental missiles in flight.
Friday’s decision comes as North Korea has issued a series of threats to attack the U.S. and South Korea over new international sanctions and joint military exercises in the region.
In addition to the interceptors, Mr. Hagel mentioned Pentagon plans to install a second advanced radar system in Japan to more quickly detect North Korean missile launches.
The Pentagon is also examining a location for a third U.S. site for interceptor missiles. Officials said they are looking at two unidentified locations on the East Coast, as well as a second field at Fort Greely.