The Washington Times Weekly - - Geopolitic­s -

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.

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