The United States will add more ground-based ballistic missile interceptors to its arsenal to guard against increased threats from North Korea and Iran, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced March 15.
North Korean and Iranian missile capabilities have increased and the United States must stay ahead of that threat, Hagel said. Both have developed longer range ballistic missiles, and North Korea has now conducted three nuclear tests, followed by stepped up threats against the United States and South Korea.
The Pentagon will deploy 14 more ground-based interceptors in locations at Fort Greely, Alaska, and Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif, Hagel said, boosting the total number from 30 to 44. The added interceptors will provide a nearly 50 percent increase in U.S. missile defense capability, Hagel said.
“The United States has missile defense systems in place to protect us from limited ICBM attacks, but North Korea in particular has recently made advances in its capabilities and is engaged in a series of irresponsible and reckless provocations,” Hagel said.
Last month, North Korea conducted its third nuclear test. In December 2012, the North launched a satellite into orbit, demonstrating an intercontinental ballistic missile capability. In April 2012, Pyongyang also displayed what appeared to be a mobile intercontinental ballistic missile capability.
Hagel also said the United States will team with Japan to deploy an additional advanced radar there. The radar will provide improved early warning and tracking of any missile launched in North Korea at the United States or Japan.
Hagel said DOD is also conducting environmental impact studies for a potential additional interceptor site in the United States. Officials are looking for two sites on the East Coast and one on the West. While the administration has not made a decision on whether to proceed, conducting environmental impact studies will shorten the timeline of construction should a decision be made, he explained. Hagel also announced plans to restructure the SM3-2B program, a land-based standard missile, with plans to deploy it as part of the European phase-adapted approach. “The purpose was to add protection of the U.S. homeland already provided by our current GBIs [ground based interceptors] against missile threats in the Middle East,” Hagel said.
The secretary said shifting resources from the “lagging program” to fund the additional interceptors and kill vehicle technology that will improve performance of the GBI and other versions of the SM3 interceptor allows the U.S. to add protection against missiles from Iran and North Korea sooner.
Hagel reemphasized the United States’ “iron-clad” commitment to missile defense. “The missile deployments the United States is making in phases 1 through 3 of the European phase-adaptive approach, including sites in Poland and Romania, will still be able to provide coverage of all European NATO territory as planned by 2018,” he said.
The overall result will improve the U.S. ability to counter future missile threats from Iran and North Korea while being good stewards of taxpayers’ resources, Hagel said.
“The American people expect us to take every necessary step to protect our security at home and U.S. strategic interests abroad,” he said. “But they expect us to do so in the most efficient and effective manner possible.”