US bulking up missile defense amid North Korean threats

The Pentagon is bulking up its missile-defense capabilities in Alaska as North Korea ramps up its nuclear tests and bellicose rhetoric toward the United States.

ADVERTISEMENT
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel on Friday announced plans to deploy an additional 14 ground-based missile interceptors on the West Coast, an increase of nearly 50 percent.

Hagel said the move was being made in response to the threats made by North Korea to attack the United States with nuclear weapons and the country’s recent advancements in its missile and nuclear capabilities.

“The reason we're advancing our program here for homeland security is to not take any chances, is to stay ahead of the threat and to assure any contingency,” Hagel said at a press briefing announcing the move.

“One of the reasons we're doing what we're doing, based on the intelligence we have, is to assure that whatever their timelines — we're not reacting to those timelines — that we're ahead of any timelines of any potential threat,” Hagel said.

The 14 new interceptors will be deployed at Fort Greely, Alaska, in addition to 26 already stationed there. There are also four interceptors at Vandenberg Air Base in California.

The ground-based interceptors are designed to destroy incoming missiles in flight.

The Pentagon plans to have the interceptors installed by 2017 at a cost of roughly $1 billion, provided testing is successful, DOD officials said.

The Pentagon still needs to finish testing for the warheads to successfully intercept missiles before moving forward with the new interceptors.

The Obama administration had shelved plans in 2009 to install the 14 additional interceptors that it’s now deploying.

Republicans criticized the administration for the delay, saying it will result in an unnecessary increase in cost to get the interceptors online.

“The original decision to divest ourselves of these interceptors was a classic case of looking at threats through politically tinted glasses,” House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) said in a statement. “Now that the administration has decided to see clearly, America can get back on the right course, but at a high and unnecessary cost.”

Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) said she applauded the administration’s decision but added that “it shouldn't have taken the predictable saber-rattling from North Korea to bring this about.”

"As the administration has delayed important missile defense decisions and programs, missile threats from countries like North Korea and Iran have grown,” Ayotte said.

Undersecretary of Defense for Policy James Miller said the decision to shelve the interceptors in 2009 was a “good bet” based on the intelligence assessments at the time.

“We saved resources at the time we’ll now have to spend,” Miller said. “At that time the threat was uncertain.”

Joint Chiefs Vice Chairman Adm. James Winnefeld told reporters Friday that military officials believed the moves would provide deterrence to the “young lad,” referring to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

"I think the national security adviser made it very clear in his speech on Monday that we not only intend to put the mechanics in place to deny any potential North Korean objective to launch a missile to the United States, but also to impose costs them if they do," Winnefeld said.

"And we believe that this young lad ought to be deterred by that. And if he's not, we'll be ready."

North Korea conducted its third nuclear test last month, and last year Pyongyang used a missile to launch a satellite into space in a show of its long-range missile technology.

North Korea has also taken a number of steps to escalate tensions in the region, including making threats against the U.S. and declaring the end of the decades-long armistice with South Korea.

In addition to the new ground-based interceptors, Hagel announced an additional radar system would be deployed in Japan to help provide early warning of missile launches. He also talked about the environmental impact study Congress requested for a third U.S.-based interceptor site.

Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), the top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, said Hagel’s announcement did not go far enough. He urged President Obama to begin implementing a third U.S. interceptor site on the East Coast.

The House included $100 million for an East Coast missile site in a proposal from Rep. Mike Turner (R-Ohio) last year, but it was watered down to the environmental study in the final Defense authorization bill.

The Pentagon is studying three locations for the third missile site, two on the East Coast and one potentially at Fort Greely.

— Published at 2:08 p.m. and last updated at 4:36 p.m.