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

Could Nemtsov Threaten Putin in Death as in Life?

Dynamic and debonair opposition leader had supported liberal economic reforms, criticized Russian president's aggression in Ukraine More

Oil Smuggling Highlights Challenges in Shutting Down IS Finances

Pentagon spokesman says Islamic State 'certainly continues to get revenue from the oil industry black market' but that airstrikes have made a dent More

India Focuses on Infrastructure, Investment to Propel Economy

Government expects economy to grow at 8 to 8.5 percent in next fiscal year More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
US Supreme Court Hears Hijab Discrimination Casei
X
Katherine Gypson
February 25, 2015 11:30 PM
The U.S. Supreme Court has heard opening arguments in a workplace religious discrimination case that examines whether a clothing store can refuse to hire a young woman for wearing the headscarf she says is a symbol of her Muslim faith. Katherine Gypson reports from the Supreme Court.
Video

Video US Supreme Court Hears Hijab Discrimination Case

The U.S. Supreme Court has heard opening arguments in a workplace religious discrimination case that examines whether a clothing store can refuse to hire a young woman for wearing the headscarf she says is a symbol of her Muslim faith. Katherine Gypson reports from the Supreme Court.
Video

Video Falling Gas Prices Hurt Nascent Illinois Hydraulic Fracturing Industry

Falling oil prices are helping consumers purchase cheaper petroleum at the pump. But that’s made hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” less economically viable for the companies in the United States invested in the process. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports on one Midwestern town that was hoping to change its fortunes by cashing in on the next big U.S. oil boom.
Video

Video Fighting in Sudan's South Kordofan Fuels Mass Displacement

Heavy fighting in Sudan's South Kordofan state is causing hundreds of thousands to flee into uncertain conditions. Local aid organizations estimate as many as 400,000 civilians have been internally displaced since the conflict began more than three years ago, while another 250,000 have fled across the border to refugee camps in South Sudan. VOA's Adam Bailes reports.
Video

Video Lao Dam Project Runs Into Opposition

A Lao dam project on a section of the Mekong River is drawing opposition from local fishermen, international environmental groups and neighboring countries. VOA's Say Mony visited the region to investigate the concerns. Colin Lovett narrates.
Video

Video A Filmmaker Discovers Her Biracial Identity in "Little White Lie

Lacey Schwartz grew up in an upper middle-class Jewish family, in a town in upstate New York where almost everyone she knew was white. She assumed that she was, as well. Her recent documentary, Little White Lie, tells the story of how she uncovered the secret of her true racial background. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more on the film.
Video

Video Deep Under Antarctic Ice Sheet, Life!

With the end of summer in the Southern hemisphere, the Antarctic research season is over. Scientists from Northern Illinois University are back in their laboratory after a 3-month expedition on the Ross Ice Shelf, the world’s largest floating ice sheet. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, they hope to find clues to explain the dynamics of the rapidly melting ice and its impact on sea level rise.
Video

Video US-Cuba Normalization Talks Resume Friday

Negotiations aimed at normalizing diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba resume Friday. On the table: lifting a half-century trade embargo and easing banking and travel restrictions. There's opposition in Congress, but some analysts say there may be sufficient political and economic incentives in both nations for a potential breakthrough this year. VOA's Mil Arcega reports.
Video

Video Pakistan's Deadline For SIM Registration Has Cellphone Users Scrambling

Pakistani cell phone users have until midnight Thursday to register their SIM cards, or their service will be cut off. While some privacy experts worry about government intrusion, many Pakistanis are just worried about keeping their phone lines open. VOA Deewa reporter Arshad Muhmand has more from Peshawar.
Video

Video Myanmar Warns Factory Workers to End Strikes

Outside Myanmar's main city Yangon, thousands of workers walked off their jobs earlier this month demanding a doubling of their wages, pay raises after a year and input from labor unions on industrial regulations. Since Friday, the standoff has grown more tense as police moved in to disrupt the sit-ins, resulting in clashes that injured people from both sides. VOA correspondent Steve Herman visited industrial zones which have become a focus of Myanmar's fledgling workers rights movement.
Video

Video Oscar Winners Do More Than Thank the Academy

The Academy Awards presentation is Hollywood’s night to reward the best movies from the previous year. It’s typically a lot of glitter, a lot of thank you’s, a lot of speeches. But many of this year’s speeches carried messages beyond the thank you's. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti takes a look.

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