The Pentagon announced Friday it will spend $1 billion to add 14 interceptors to an Alaska-based missile- defense system, responding to what it called faster-than-anticipated North Korean progress on nuclear weapons and missiles.
In announcing the decision, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said he is determined to protect the U.S. homeland and stay ahead of a worrisome North Korean missile threat. He acknowledged that the interceptors already in place to defend against potential North Korean missile strikes have had poor test performances.
“We will strengthen our homeland defense, maintain our commitments to our allies and partners and make clear to the world that the United States stands firm against aggression,” Hagel told a Pentagon news conference.
He said the 14 additional interceptors will be installed at Fort Greely, Alaska, where 26 already stand in underground silos, connected to communications systems and operated by soldiers at Greely and at Colorado Springs, Colo. The interceptors are designed to lift out of their silos, soar beyond the atmosphere and deploy a “kill vehicle” that can lock onto a targeted warhead and, by ramming into it at high speed, obliterate it.
Hagel also cited a previously announced Pentagon plan to place an additional radar in Japan to provide early warning of a North Korean missile launch and to assist in tracking its flight path.
A portion of the $1 billion cost of the expanded system at Fort Greely will come from scrapping the final phase of a missile-defense system the U.S. is building in Europe, Hagel said. The system in Europe is aimed mainly at defending against a missile threat from Iran; key elements of that system already are in place.
Tom Collina, research director at the Arms Control Association, applauded the decision to scrap the final phase of the European system, calling it an addition that “may not work against a threat that does not yet exist.”
Anticipating possible European unease, Hagel said U.S. commitment to defending Europe “remains ironclad.”