North Korea claims it has a new ballistic missile, but the Pentagon says it can and will take it out if it poses a threat.
When North Korea tested a new surface-to-surface medium-range ballistic missile Sunday, the U.S. Navy had two guided-missile destroyers stationed in the Sea of Japan to shoot the missile down if necessary. Both ships, the USS Stethem and USS McCampbell, are armed with the Aegis ballistic missile system, which can reportedly track up to 100 missiles at the same time and intercept enemy projectile weaponry when needed, according to CNN.
The Aegis system is used by Japan and South Korea as well. The former has six Aegis destroyers, while the latter has three.
“We maintain abilities to be able to respond quickly and intercept missiles from North Korea if they do pose a threat to us or our allies,” said Pentagon spokesman U.S. Navy Captain Jeff Davis. “We worked very quickly with our Japanese and South Korean allies to make sure that it did not pose a threat.”
North Korea’s new missile, the Pukguksong-2, may not be an easy intercept though.
The new ballistic missile is a modified land-based version of the Pukguksong-1, a submarine-launched ballistic missile the North. Like its predecessor, the Pukguksong-2 is a solid-fueled weapon. Solid-fueled missiles require less preparation time, making it harder to detect early. As a road mobile weapon, the new missile is much less vulnerable to preemptive strikes.
Numerous fueling and equipment trucks and military personnel are required for liquid-fueled missiles, which makes them an easier target for an observant opponent. “Liquid-fueled missiles are more vulnerable to tracking and preemptive strikes. Solid-fueled ballistic missiles are not fueled on site and therefore pose more of a threat, because solid-fueled ballistic missiles require less support and can be deployed more quickly,” Kelsey Davenport, the director of nonproliferation policy and a North Korea expert at the Arms Control Association, told Business Insider.
The Pukguksong-2 can be driven out to the desired location on a mobile launcher and fired with very little hassle, and with the treads installed on the transporter erector launcher, the missile can travel across harsh terrain, allowing the weapon to be fired from almost any location. The North could launch an assault on a U.S. base in South Korea or Japan with almost no warning.
The Aegis anti-missile system uses AN/SPY-1 radar systems to detect missile launches early. Nearby ships can fire interceptor missiles or relay the information to another ship for interception.
Aegis can also coordinate with other anti-missile systems, such as the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) missile shield expected to be deployed in South Korea this year; however, the Aegis-equipped destroyers are more important for missile defense, given the limited range of some other systems.
The Aegis system has successfully intercepted missiles in tests, but it has reportedly never done so in a combat scenario.
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