News / USA

North Korean Actions Raise Stakes for US Missile Defense

A Standard Missile-3 Block 1A interceptor is launched from the guided-missile cruiser USS Lake Erie during a Missile Defense Agency and U.S. Navy test in the Pacific Ocean, Feb. 13, 2013.A Standard Missile-3 Block 1A interceptor is launched from the guided-missile cruiser USS Lake Erie during a Missile Defense Agency and U.S. Navy test in the Pacific Ocean, Feb. 13, 2013.
x
A Standard Missile-3 Block 1A interceptor is launched from the guided-missile cruiser USS Lake Erie during a Missile Defense Agency and U.S. Navy test in the Pacific Ocean, Feb. 13, 2013.
A Standard Missile-3 Block 1A interceptor is launched from the guided-missile cruiser USS Lake Erie during a Missile Defense Agency and U.S. Navy test in the Pacific Ocean, Feb. 13, 2013.
Mike Richman
North Korea's latest nuclear test, coupled with its successful long-range rocket launch in December, is prompting renewed attention to the state of U.S. missile defenses.

Following its nuclear test on Tuesday, North Korea claimed it had built a "smaller and light" bomb. If that's true, Pyongyang is one step closer to developing an atomic warhead small enough to fit atop one of its long-range missiles.

The United States has been working for years to make sure that it will be able to intercept such a missile if one is ever fired at its territory. Outgoing U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta recently told CNN the U.S. has a strong missile defense system that can "guard against that kind of potential."

He was referring to about 30 ground-based missile interceptors, almost all of which are deployed in Alaska. The interceptors were developed during the administration of former President George W. Bush in response to North Korea's ballistic missile program.

Effectiveness of U.S. Interceptors

Two Washington-based analysts told VOA they are not sure how effective the interceptors will be.

“These interceptors in Alaska and California are believed to have some capability against a rudimentary intercontinental ballistic missile warhead of the kind that you would expect North Korea to have initially," said Steven Pifer, head of the Arms Control Initiative at the Brookings Institution. "But how good they would actually be, we don’t know. But there is some capability to protect America already deployed.”

James Acton of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace said it is impossible to evaluate the interceptors without access to classified information.

"Based on what's available in the public domain, I would say an intercept is certainly possible, but not guaranteed," said Acton.  

In his State of the Union speech on Tuesday, President Barack Obama called North Korea's nuclear test a "provocation" and said the United States is strengthening its missile defense system.

Pifer said plans are underway to build more missile silos in Alaska. Also, the U.S. Navy has a missile called the SM3 that can intercept short- to medium-range ballistic missiles.

According to Acton, the Obama administration has been focusing on stationing interceptors in northeast Asia to defend against North Korean missiles and conventional shorter-range Chinese missiles. He said the administration also has been working on a defense system in Europe to defend allies, and in the longer run the continental U.S., from Iranian missiles.

Strategic Defense Initiative

In 1983, U.S. President Ronald Reagan proposed creation of the Strategic Defense Initiative, or SDI, a space-based anti-missile program. He envisioned a system capable of destroying Soviet intercontinental ballistic missiles high above the Earth before they could reach the U.S.

The program was dubbed "Star Wars," after the popular American movie released in 1977.

SDI was abandoned several years later, partly because of technological and budget constraints. But Pifer said elements of "Star Wars" still exist.

“When you look at some of the concepts that are involved in the ground-based interceptors that are in Alaska and California, and in the SM3 interceptor missile which is now aboard Navy ships," said Pifer, "certainly the concept of having an interceptor that uses an infrared sensor to detect a warhead in the cold blackness of space, then basically fly the interceptor into the target, that has its roots going back to some of the thinking and some of the work that was done under the Strategic Defense Initiative in the Reagan years.”

Most analysts believe North Korea is several years away from developing a missile that can hit the United States, but that improvements in the missile defense program will remain a top U.S. priority.

You May Like

French Refugee Drama Wins Cannes Top Prize

Dheepan is about a group of Sri Lankan refugees who pretend to be a family in order to flee their war-torn country for a housing project in France More

Photogallery Crisis in Macedonia Requires Meaningful and Swift Measures

The international community has called on Macedonian leadership to take concrete measures in support of democracy in order to exit the crisis More

Activists: IS Executes 217 Civilians, Soldiers Near Palmyra

British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights on Sunday said the victims include nurses, women, children and Syrian government fighters More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Female American Soldiers: Healing Through Filmmakingi
X
Bernard Shusman
May 24, 2015 2:55 PM
According to the United States Defense Department, there are more than 200-thousand women serving in the U.S. Armed Forces.  Like their male counterparts, females have experiences that can be very traumatic.  VOA's Bernard Shusman tells us about a program that is helping some American women in the military heal through filmmaking.
Video

Video Female American Soldiers: Healing Through Filmmaking

According to the United States Defense Department, there are more than 200-thousand women serving in the U.S. Armed Forces.  Like their male counterparts, females have experiences that can be very traumatic.  VOA's Bernard Shusman tells us about a program that is helping some American women in the military heal through filmmaking.
Video

Video Rolling Thunder Run Reveals Changed Attitudes Towards Vietnam War

For many US war veterans, the Memorial Day holiday is an opportunity to look back at a divisive conflict in the nation’s history and to remember those who did not make it home.
Video

Video Millions Flock to Ethiopia Polls

Millions of Ethiopians cast their votes Sunday in the first national election since the 2012 death of longtime leader Meles Zenawi. Mr. Meles' party, the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front, is almost certain of victory again. VOA's Anita Powell reports from Addis Ababa.
Video

Video Scientists Testing Space Propulsion by Light

Can the sun - the heart of our solar system - power a spacecraft to the edge of our solar system? The answer may come from a just-launched small satellite designed to test the efficiency of solar sail propulsion. Once deployed, its large sail will catch the so-called solar wind and slowly reach what scientists hope to be substantial speed. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video FIFA Trains Somali Referees

As stability returns to the once lawless nation of Somalia, the world football governing body, FIFA, is helping to rebuild the country’s sport sector by training referees as well as its young footballers. Abdulaziz Billow has more from Mogadishu.
Video

Video With US Child Obesity Rates on the Rise, Program Promotes Health Eating

In its fifth year, FoodCorps puts more than 180 young Americans into 500 schools across the United States, where they focus on teaching students about nutrition, engaging them with hands-on activities, and improving their access to healthy foods whether in the cafeteria or the greater community. Aru Pande has more.
Video

Video Virginia Neighborhood Draws People to Nostalgic Main Street

In the U.S., people used to grow up in small towns with a main street lined by family-owned shops and restaurants. Today, however, many main streets are worn down and empty because shoppers have been lured away by shopping malls. But in the Del Ray neighborhood of Alexandria, Virginia, main street is thriving. VOA’s Deborah Block reports it has a nostalgic feel with its small restaurants and unique stores.
Video

Video Effort Underway to Limit Damage from California Oil Spill

Cleanup crews are working around the clock to remove oil from the waters off the coastal city of Santa Barbara, in California. About 380,000 liters of oil may have leaked out before a rupture in an onshore, underground pipeline was discovered Tuesday. The environmental disaster hit the popular West Coast resort area before the Memorial Day weekend. VOA's Zlatica Hoke reports investigators have yet to determine what caused the incident.

VOA Blogs