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

Philippines, Muslim Rebels Try to Salvage Peace Pact

Peace process faces major setback after botched military operation to find terrorists results in bloody gunbattle between government forces, Moro Islamic Liberation Front fighters More

Republicans Expect Long, Expensive Presidential Battle

Political strategist says eventual winner will be one who can put together strongest coalition of various conservative groups that make up Republican Party More

Video New Wheelchair Is Easier to Use, Increases Mobility

Engineers have come up with a lever-operated design that makes use of easily accessible bicycle technology More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grievingi
X
Benno Muchler
March 26, 2015 3:41 PM
Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grieving

Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Cambodian Land Grabs Threaten Traditional Communities

Indigenous communities in Cambodia's Ratanakiri province say the government’s economic land concession policy is taking away their land and traditional way of life, making many fear that their identity will soon be lost. Local authorities, though, have denied this is the case. VOA's Say Mony went to investigate and filed this report, narrated by Colin Lovett.
Video

Video US, South Korea Conduct Joint Military Exercises

The Eighth U.S. Army Division and the Eighth Republic of Korea Mechanized Infantry Division put on a well orchestrated show of force for the media this week during their joint military training exercises in South Korea. VOA’s Seoul correspondent Brian Padden was there and reports the soldiers were well disciplined both in conducting a complex live fire exercise and in staying on message with the press.
Video

Video Space Program Status Disappoints 'Last Man on the Moon'

One of the films that drew big crowds last week at the annual South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, tells the story of the last human being to stand on the moon, U.S. astronaut Eugene Cernan. It has been 42 years since Cernan returned from the moon and he laments that no one else has gone there since. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Young Filmmakers Shine Spotlight on Giving Back

A group of student filmmakers from across the United States joined President Barack Obama at the White House this month for the second annual White House Student Film Festival. Fifteen short films were officially selected from more than 1,500 entries by students aged 6 through 18. The filmmakers and their families then joined the president and a group of celebrities for a screening of their films. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video VOA Exclusive: Interview with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, during his first visit as president to Washington, gave a one-on-one interview with VOA Afghan Service reporter Said Suleiman Ashna, about his request for a change in U.S. troop levels, the threat from the Islamic State, and repairing relations with the United States and Pakistan. The interview was held at Blair House, late Sunday, in Pashto.
Video

Video California Science Center Tells Story of Dead Sea Scrolls

The ancient manuscripts were uncovered in the mid-20th century, and they are still yielding clues about life and religious beliefs in ancient Israel. As VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports, an exhibit in Los Angeles shows how modern science is bringing the history of these ancient documents to life.
Video

Video Angelina Jolie Takes Another Bold Step

Hollywood actress and filmmaker Angelina Jolie has revealed she had her ovaries and fallopian tubes removed to lower her odds of getting cancer. Doctors say the huge publicity over her decision will help raise awareness about the importance of cancer screening. VOA’s George Putic has more

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More