A look at US defense capabilities to handle North Korean missile threat

Posted on: July 4th, 2017 by ABC News No Comments

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) — A U.S. official confirmed today that North Korea has launched a two-stage intercontinental ballistic missile, or ICBM. This is the first successfully test-fired ICBM for North Korea, who has been attempting to build a missile that can reach the United States mainland.

The Trump administration has made clear that “all options are on the table” to deal with the escalating threat North Korea poses.

The Department of Defense has an extensive missile defense system designed to help protect from a possible missile attack from North Korea.

Ground-based Midcourse Defense system

The Missile Defense system is designed to counter a North Korean missile threat including ICBMs, which travel a minimum of 3,400 miles. North Korea has stated openly that it wants to develop an ICBM capable of striking the United States mainland with a nuclear weapon.

The U.S. conducted its first test in May of its ground-based intercept system with an ICBM target.

The ground-based interceptor was launched from the Vandenberg Air Force Base in California while the ICBM target was launched from Kwajalein Atoll, part of the Marshall Islands in the Pacific. The result: the ICBM was “successfully intercepted,” like a bullet hitting another bullet.

“This system is vitally important to the defense of our homeland, and this test demonstrates that we have a capable, credible deterrent against a very real threat,” according to Vice Adm. Jim Syring, director of the Missile Defense Agency at the time.

There are currently 36 ground-based interceptors positioned at two military bases in the U.S., 32 at Fort Greely in Alaska and four more at Vandenberg Air Force Base.

The THAAD system

Differing from the ground-based interceptor, the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system, or THAAD system, intercepts and destroys short- and mid-range ballistic missiles before they reach the ground on their terminal approach.

The THAAD system operates by using “hit-to-kill technology” and is comprised of multiple missile batteries coordinated by a radar and tracking system.

This system is currently deployed to South Korea.

Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense

The Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense is the Naval part of the Missile Defense Agency’s defense system. Though not designed to defeat ICBMs, Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense ships can track ICBMs and provide “fire control data” to the ground-based interceptors in Fort Greely and Vandenberg Air Force Base.

Navy destroyers and cruisers equipped with the system carry interceptor missiles capable of targeting an ICBM shortly after launch.

Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense ships can also track ICBMs and provide “fire control data” to the ground-based interceptors in Fort Greely and Vandenberg Air Force Base.

U.S. troops and carriers

The U.S. has 28,500 American troops permanently stationed in South Korea and 54,000 American troops in Japan.

In Japan, the U.S. Navy has stationed destroyers and cruisers capable of carrying out the missile defense mission close to the Korean peninsula.

The aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan in Yokosuka, Japan, frequently conducts patrols throughout the Pacific. While not a part of the ballistic missile defense system, its presence in the Sea of Japan can deter provocations by North Korea.

The carrier is currently participating in a regional exercise off Australia’s east coast.

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