March 21, 2013

Pentagon: Missile Defense System Covers Guam

Days before North Korea’s latest missile threat that specifically mentioned Andersen Air Force Base as a target, Pentagon officials assured that Guam and other areas outside the U.S. mainland are covered by a national missile defense system.

“The U.S. should not forget that the Anderson Air Force Base on Guam where B-52 takes off and naval bases in Japan proper and Okinawa where nuclear-powered submarines are launched are within the striking range of the (North Korea’s) precision strike means,” the North Korean state news agency stated yesterday. The North Korean statement misspelled Andersen.

“(North Korea’s) declaration that it will react to the nukes of the enemy with nuclear attack more powerful than them is by no means an empty talk,” the North Korean statement added.

Pentagon officials’ assurance that Guam is covered by the U.S. missile defense system was made at a March 15 press conference at the Pentagon.
A 2012 report by the National Research Council of the National Academies discussed missile interception options to protect potential U.S. assets closer to North Korea, such as military bases on Guam and in Japan. Guam is about 2,200 miles from North Korea.

Boost phase
For defending South Korea and Guam, a missile launched from North Korea would have a launch trajectory so low that only a system such as the Theater High Altitude Area Defense system, or THAAD, based in South Korea, might be able to engage hostile missiles during their boost phase, states a Research Council of the National Academies report made public last year. The report’s title is “Making Sense of Ballistic Missile Defense: An Assessment of Concepts and Systems for U.S. Boost-Phase Missile Defense in Comparison to Other Alternatives.”

Missile interception from aboard Aegis-type ships from the Sea of Japan likely wouldn’t be feasible during the early phase of the missile’s launch, the council’s report states, since the missile would be at a low altitude because of its close proximity.

Successful Launch
On Dec. 12, 2012, North Korea successfully launched a three-stage Unha-3 rocket, which can reach at least Guam now and most likely will be able to reach Alaska, Hawaii and the West Coast of the continental United States within the coming year or two, stated Patrick M. Cronin. Cronin is senior adviser and senior director of the Asian-Pacific Security Program at the Center for a New American Security in Washington, D.C.

Defense Undersecretary James Miller, in a press conference on March 15, assured that the United States’ ground-based, mid-course defense system provides anti-missile defense coverage for the nation, Guam included.

Miller was asked at a press conference at the Pentagon if areas outside of the mainland, such as Guam, are covered by the national defense system, and his response was: “The ground-based, mid-course defense system provides coverage ... of not just the continental United States — but all the United States.”
In the same press conference, Pentagon officials announced that the Defense Department is adding ground-based missile interceptors in Alaska, but the plan’s implementation is expected to take a few years to become reality.