MISSILE DEFENSES STILL READY FOR NORTH KOREA
Alaska-based interceptor missiles capable of knocking out long-range North Korean missiles remain at a high state of readiness despite the apparent reduction in tensions with Pyongyang following the recent summit between President Trump and Kim Jong-un.
Defense Secretary Jim Mattis toured Fort Greely, Alaska, this week, home of the Pentagon’s groundbased interceptor missile defense system. The missile defense base is located in central Alaska about 70 miles south of Fairbanks and is staffed by several hundred soldiers on constant watch for any longrange missile strikes.
The base houses 44 ground-based interceptors in silos and is being expanded.
“That is a critical component in the American deterrent effort against the use of missiles against our country,” Mr. Mattis told reporters after visiting the base, one of the more secret U.S. military facilities. “It’s a very sobering reminder for our adversaries that we are able to defend ourselves.”
Mr. Mattis declined to discuss his visit. But Fort Greely recently invited local reporters to witness a demonstration at an unclassified portion of the facility where troops conducted a drill that led to simulated firing of interceptors in response to an incoming enemy missile.
Sen. Dan Sullivan, Alaska Republican and member of the Senate Armed Services Committee who traveled with Mr. Mattis to Fort Greely, said the missile defense base is being upgraded due to the North Korean threat.
“We’re building it up,” he said. “Nobody’s stopping. The threat is increasing, and the administration and Congress are working together to increase [missile defenses], and a lot of that is taking place in Alaska.”
Based on the growing North Korean missile threat, another 20 ground-based interceptors will be added at Fort Greely, Mr. Sullivan said. The new interceptors could be in place as early as 2023, and the Pentagon has said the defenses also could be used to protect against Iranian long-range missile attacks in the future.
The defense authorization bill pending in Congress also contains funding for new space-based sensors aimed at bolstering missile defenses.
Army Lt. Gen. Robert Ashley, director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, testified to Congress in March that the North Korean dictator carried out a “rapid, ambitious missile-development and flighttesting program” in recent years that has moved Pyongyang closer than ever before to having missiles capable of striking the United States with nuclear warheads.
The missile threats, according to Gen. Ashley, include two tests of the Hwasong-14 intercontinental missile in July 2016, and then a test of a more powerful Hwsong-15 in November. Both are capable of striking the United States, he said.
Mr. Mattis was asked whether a successful outcome of the North Korean nuclear talks could reduce the need to add interceptors at Fort Greely.
“If I had a crystal ball, I could better answer [the question], because even if one threat goes away — and let’s all wish the diplomats well who are working this now — we have to stay alert to other things in the world that could constitute a threat,” Mr. Mattis said.
The defense secretary appeared to be suggesting that missile threats are not diminishing. U.S. intelligence agencies are concerned about the growing threat of Chinese and Russian hypersonic missiles — maneuverable weapons designed to fly at very high speeds along the edge of space — designed to defeat missile defenses like those deployed in Alaska.
The North Korean missile threat has not gone away, “so clearly we take that very, very seriously,” he said.