The Defense Department says it detected all seven North Korean missile launches and determined quickly that they were not a threat to the United States or its territories. The Department also says the one long-range missile that was launched failed on its own after less than one minute of flight.
Spokesman Bryan Whitman says the North American Air Defense Command, known as NORAD, was fully aware of the North Korean launches, and was able to assess their significance almost immediately.
"Each and every launch was detected, monitored and interceptors were operational during the missile launches that took place," he said. "The commander of NORAD was able to determine rather quickly that the missiles didn't pose a threat to the United States or its territories."
Whitman would not say exactly what 'interceptors' were operational.
The new U.S. missile defense system is partly activated and has had about a 50 percent success rate in tests. That system, based in Alaska and California, is designed to intercept long-range missiles like one of those launched by North Korea. Shorter range missiles, which North Korea also launched, would be attacked, if necessary, by shorter-range, regionally based systems.
Whitman says the Defense Department was prepared to respond to the North Korean launches if that had been necessary.
"We have well established procedures for dealing with missile launches that potentially pose a threat to the United States or its territories," he said. "Those procedures were followed for these activities."
The Pentagon spokesman would not say whether senior officials were involved in those procedures. But he did confirm that the only one of the missiles that might possibly have reached the United States or its territories in the Pacific, failed within a minute after it was launched.
"The Taepodong-2, the missile that had been watched for some time, that we have been talking about for the past couple of weeks, appears to have failed on its own in the early stages of its launch, and also went into the Sea of Japan, along with the rest of the short-to-mid-range missile," he said.
Despite the apparent failure of North Korea's new long-range missile, Whitman says the country's missile program is still a threat.
"North Korea's development, deployment and proliferation of missiles and missile-related materials, equipment and technology pose a threat to the region and to the world," he said.
The Pentagon spokesman would not say what, if any, military steps the United States is taking or considering in the wake of the North Korean launches. He said the focus will likely shift to diplomatic efforts.