Top commander in Pacific: US needs to strengthen missile defense

The top U.S. military commander in the Pacific told lawmakers on Wednesday that the country needs to do more to bolster its missile defense systems amid heightened concerns over North Korea's rapidly advancing weapon program.

"I believe that across the range of integrated air missile defense – IAMD – that we can and need to do more," Adm. Harry Harris, the commander of U.S. Pacific Command, said at a House Armed Services Committee hearing. 

Harris said the U.S. could improve on the number of radar and interceptors — defense systems designed to take out incoming missiles — particularly in Hawaii. The U.S. currently has interceptors in California and Alaska.


While current systems are currently sufficient to protect against an attack by North Korea, he said, they could eventually become overwhelmed.

Harris also warned lawmakers not to take the threat posed by North Korea lightly. Although the reclusive country is not currently capable of striking the U.S., he said, leader Kim Jong Un has made that a clear military goal.

"We have to look at North Korea as if Kim Jong Un will do what he says," Harris said. 

"All I can do is understand what he says. And when he threatens the United States, then that’s one level. But when he threatens the United States with the capability of realizing that threat, that’s a different place."

Harris gave his testimony a day after the U.S. military began moving parts of its Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system to a site in South Korea. That system, he said, is aimed toward North Korea.

The entire Senate is attending a briefing on North Korea at the White House on Wednesday, an unusual gathering that signals growing concern among lawmakers and national security officials over the threat posed by North Korea.