US Might Not Be Able To Stop An Incoming North Korean Ballistic Missile

REUTERS/U.S. Department of Defense, Missile Defense Agency/Handout via Reuters

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Ryan Pickrell China/Asia Pacific Reporter
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The U.S. might not be able to intercept a North Korean intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) heading for the U.S., the Pentagon’s weapons testing office revealed.

Kim Jong-un announced last week that the North has “reached the final stage of preparations to test-launch an intercontinental ballistic missile.” In response, the Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter said Sunday that the U.S. would shoot down any North Korean ballistic missile “if it were coming towards our territory or the territory of our friends and allies.”

But, there are doubts about U.S. capabilities.

The U.S. has a “limited capability to defend the U.S. homeland from small numbers of simple” North Korean nuclear-tipped ICBMs, the Pentagon’s weapons testing office warned in its annual report, according to Bloomberg.

The U.S. has ground-based interceptors at Fort Greely in Alaska and Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, but their reliability is uncertain “due to a lack of ground tests” supported by verifiable “modeling and simulations,” the report added.

The “reliability and availability” of the operational interceptors is low, the report indicated, noting that the Missile Defense Agency is still finding flaws in the system.

America’s missile defense system “has destroyed its target fewer than half the 17 times it has been tested, and its record is not improving over time,” Laura Grego, a Union of Concerned Scientists missile defense expert, argued last year.

Vice Admiral James Syring, director of the Missile Defense Agency, told Bloomberg that he has “high confidence” in the U.S. ability to shoot down an incoming ballistic missile.

“I am very confident in the systems and procedures” the U.S. Northern Command “will employ to intercept a North Korean ICBM were they to shoot it toward our territory,” he explained.

North Korea conducted an unprecedented number of missile tests last year and has made “qualitative” advancements in ballistic missile technology; however, the Department of State argues that North Korea does not yet have the ability to mount a nuclear warhead on a ballistic missile.

The North is moving in that direction, though.

“Sooner or later, but certainly within the next four years, … [North Korea] will announce with credibility that they have a deliverable nuclear weapon,” former U.S. diplomat Christopher Hill said Saturday.

Some observers expect North Korea to test-fire an ICBM this year.

The U.S. will reportedly conduct another ballistic missile interception test sometime between April and June.

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