When North Korea successfully tested an intercontinental ballistic missile Tuesday, the U.S. was watching from afar, according to a senior U.S. official who spoke with Fox News.
North Korea achieved a breakthrough in weapons development with the launch of an ICBM, one which the North claims can carry a nuclear warhead and expert observers suspect could reach Alaska. The weapon was fired from a new location, an airfield near Panghyon northwest of Pyongyang. The liquid-fueled missile was delivered to the weapons testing site on a road-mobile launcher. During the preparation stage, the U.S. military was watching, according to Fox News.
Unlike their solid-fueled counterparts, liquid-fueled missiles are more difficult to move, require more preparation time, and have a much larger satellite signature. Furthermore, North Korea is a constant threat to the region and now, possibly, even the U.S.
North Korea claimed that the test Tuesday successfully demonstrated stage separation, atmospheric re-entry, and late-stage warhead control for a long-range ballistic missile, one which could be used to strike anywhere in the world.
“Clearly we watch North Korea very closely,” a Pentagon spokesman Navy Capt. Jeff Davis told reporters at a press briefing Wednesday, “We are always seeking to be aware of their actions.” Davis refused to provide intelligence details, and the Pentagon neither confirmed or denied U.S. observation at the time of the launch.
The U.S. military reportedly did not take steps to eliminate the missile in flight, as it was determined that the weapon did not pose a threat to the U.S. or American allies in the Asia-Pacific region. When an intercontinental ballistic missile is launched, North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) makes an initial missile warning assessment. U.S. Northern Command, which controls U.S. ground-based interceptors, then determines how to engage the incoming missile. In the case of a theater missile, U.S. allies — South Korea and Japan — make decisions with U.S. input.
Nonetheless, the Pentagon asserts that the U.S. was not sitting idly at the time of Tuesday’s test.
“Our missile defense system is always active … always ready,” Davis told reporters, further stating, “We have confidence in our ability to defend against the nascent [North Korean] threat.”
The U.S. conducted a successful ICBM intercept test in May, but while the military is confident in American defense systems, some expert observers suspect that in an actual combat scenario, even against a country like North Korea, something might slip through the U.S. missile shield.
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