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In this image made from video, displays show the Unha-3 rocket launch at North Korea In this image made from video, displays show the Unha-3 rocket launch at North Korea's space agency's General Launch Command Center on the outskirts of Pyongyang, Wednesday, Dec. 12, 2012. (AP Photo via APTN)  

Unique Colorado Air Force squadron keeping an eye out for N. Korean nukes

A unique Colorado Air National Guard unit is keeping its eye on the skies for North Korean missiles after Kim Jong-un reportedly ordered its short- and long-range missile batteries to standby for attacks on U.S. bases in South Korea and the Pacific.

Sky News reports that the young North Korean leader met with his top generals late Wednesday night and signed the order in response to a show of force by the United States, which sent two nuclear-capable B-2 bombers to participate in a military exercise with South Korea in recent days.

Jong-un earlier had nullified the 1953 armistice and threatened to nuke the United States and begin an “all out war.”

Although North Korea isn’t believed to yet have the right combination of warhead and long-range missile to hit the U.S. mainland, the Pentagon is taking no chances. Fox News reports that the military is deploying additional ground-based missile interceptor batteries to California and Alaska.

“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,” James Miller, undersecretary of Defense for policy, told the network.

The 137th Space Warning Squadron, based in Greeley, Colo., is at the forefront of missile-launch detection and it’s the only squadron monitoring for incoming threats that is 100 percent mobile and self-sustaining.

With equipment mounted inside a fleet of large semi-trucks, it can be deployed worldwide to provide real-time nuclear-attack warnings and analysis on strikes that occur anywhere in the world.

Commander Thomas McKenna told KUNC radio that North Korea’s recent threats make missile-warning systems as important today as during the height of the Cold War.

“We’re constantly vigilant hoping that we don’t see anything, but always making sure that we are of the eyes and ears of warning,” he said.

In early March, North Korea promised a preemptive nuclear strike against the United States in response to new sanctions unanimously passed by the UN Security Council. Tensions have only escalated since then, with both China and Russia appealing to leaders in Washington, D.C., and Pyongyang to cool down the rhetoric and the shows of force.

But Sky News quotes North Korea’s state news agency as saying that Jong-un has “judged the time has come to settle accounts with the U.S. imperialists in view of the prevailing situation.”

Any missile launch will likely be detected first in Colorado, home to numerous defense stations that have been watching the skies for threats for decades. The North American Aerospace Defense Command is located at Peterson Air Force Base near Colorado Springs and the Alternative Command Center is inside the nuke-proof Cheyenne Mountain complex made famous in the 1983 movie “WarGames.”

Colorado and neighboring states are also peppered with decommissioned Minuteman, Titan and Atlas ICBM batteries (as well as what are presumed to be classified operational missile sites).

Although largely out of the limelight since the collapse of the Soviet Union, missile-warning systems have always been an important part of homeland defense, McKenna said, pointing to new technologies and growing weapons stockpiles in Russia and China.

“The threat is changing, and we have to be more responsive as a military to be able to respond to any threat,” he said.

The squadron was recently reorganized under the Air Force’s 233rd Space Group, a move that more fully integrates it into the Air Force command structure.

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