WASHINGTON – The commander of U.S. forces in the Pacific reassured Congress on Tuesday that the U.S. military could intercept any missile launched by North Korea and aimed at American territory or its East Asian allies.
Adm. Samuel Locklear’s briefing to senators came amid growing concern that North Korea is about to test a rocket – some observers suggest as early as today – after weeks of bellicose threats.
“We have a credible ability to defend the homeland, to defend Hawaii, to defend Guam, to defend our forward deployed forces, and to defend our allies,” Locklear told the Senate Armed Services Committee.
He said Pentagon agencies could quickly recognize a missile’s trajectory and knock it out of the sky with land-based or ship-based anti-missile batteries if it posed a threat.
U.S., South Korean and Japanese officials have been preparing for days for the possible launch of an intermediate-range missile. Although they maintain that most of North Korea’s threats have been bluster, they acknowledge that North Korea’s actions are unpredictable, so they have deployed anti-missile defenses.
North Korea has moved an intermediate-range Musudun missile to its east coast, possibly in preparation for launch, and has warned at various times that its missiles could hit South Korea, Japan, Guam or the U.S. mainland. The Musudun is estimated by Jane’s, a defense analysis company, to have a range of 1,550 to 2,500 miles, which would allow it to reach Guam.
North Korea sought to further raise anxieties by having the Korea Asia-Pacific Peace Committee, a government agency, urge “all foreign organizations, companies and tourists to work out measures for evacuation” because the Korean peninsula was “inching closer to thermonuclear war.”
The United States and its allies have been trying to carefully calibrate their public message, urging calm while emphasizing that they are prepared for any attack. They believe North Korea’s goals are to try to damage the South Korean economy by spreading panic and seeking to force the U.S. back to the negotiating table with concessions.