U.S. expands missile defence system as North Korea test-fires into sea
The United States will add 14 missile interceptors along the West Coast, the Pentagon announced Friday, amid reports of fresh missile tests by North Korea.
According to an unconfirmed report, North Korea fired short-range missiles into the ocean Friday, in an apparent response to new sanctions imposed after a nuclear test last month.
Two missiles were fired into the East Sea by a North Korean military unit, the South Korean news agency Yonhap reported, citing a military source in Seoul.
They were believed to be short-range ballistic KN-02 missiles.
As the reports circulated, U.S. Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel told a news conference the Pentagon will invest $1 billion for 14 ground-based interceptors (GBIs) to add to its missile defence system.
"We will strengthen our homeland defence, maintain our commitment to our allies and partners, and make clear to the world that the United States stands firm against aggression," Hagel said.
He added that funds that were originally intended to finance the final phase of a missile defence system in Europe would go toward some of the cost of expanding the West Coast system.
According to Tom Collina, research director at the Arms Control Association, abandoning the addition to the European defence system was wise as it "may not work against a threat that does not yet exist."
The United States already has 26 interceptors in Alaska, and four in California. The new deployment will boost the Pentagon’s ability to shoot down long-range missiles en route to the United States.
GBIs are designed to intercept incoming ballistic missile warheads beyond the Earth’s atmosphere, destroying them by force of impact.
The administration of President George W. Bush planned the missile defence system in 2004. According to Bruce Klingner, a senior research fellow at the U.S. Heritage Foundation, President Barack Obama’s administration stalled the system, which is now being expanded in light of North Korea’s threats.
“In a way this is calling North Korea’s bluff,” Klingner said on CTV News Channel. “By putting back into the programme what had already been planned, we are countering North Korea’s missile threat to the United States.”
The additional interceptors are slated to be in place by September 2017 after testing.
In February, North Korea said it conducted both nuclear and ballistic missile tests.
On March 7, the United Nations Security Council voted unanimously to condemn the tests and impose tough new sanctions designed to target North Korea's ruling elite, and make it difficult for the isolated nation to obtain materials needed to build weapons.
Immediately after the vote, however, a spokesperson for North Korea's foreign minister warned Pyongyang would exercise its right to "a pre-emptive nuclear attack to destroy the strongholds of the aggressors" -- claiming the U.S. was provoking nuclear war.
In response, the White House said that it was prepared to answer militarily, if necessary.
The U.S. has been conducting joint military exercises with South Korea since Monday.
With files from The Associated Press