WASHINGTON/SEOUL – The Pentagon announced Friday it will spend $1 billion to add 14 interceptors to the U.S.-based missile defense system, responding to what it called faster-than-anticipated North Korean progress on nuclear weapons and missiles.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said Friday that the United States will also provide Japan with additional radar in the face of growing security threats from North Korea.
Speaking at a news conference at the Pentagon, Hagel said the Defense Department will deploy the 14 additional ground-based interceptors in Alaska by September 2017, bringing the number of interceptors on the U.S. West Coast to 44 from the current 30.
The plan to beef up U.S. missile defense capabilities will also affect Japan, given the increasingly threatening posture adopted by Pyongyang.
“With the support of the Japanese government, we’re planning to deploy additional radar in Japan,” Hagel said, adding that the move is aimed at providing “improved early warning and tracking of any missile launch from North Korea at the United States or Japan.”
Hagel was referring to an X-band radar system that Tokyo and Washington are considering installing in Japan, in addition to the existing large-scale radar unit at an Air Self-Defense Force base in Aomori Prefecture.
Japan and the United States are considering installing a second X-band radar system in an ASDF base on the Sea of Japan coast in Kyoto Prefecture.
Asked when the second X-band radar will be installed, James Miller, undersecretary of defense for policy, told reporters: “At this point, I would say it’s a matter of at least some months.” The two governments are discussing the precise timing of the installation.
The move came after North Korea’s military fired short-range missiles into the Sea of Japan on Friday, South Korea’s Yonhap news agency reported. A single unit of the North’s military test-fired the missiles presumed to be KN-02, estimated to have a range of about 120 km, the report said.
The tests came a day after North Korean leader Kim Jong Un oversaw a live-fire artillery drill near the disputed Yellow Sea border with South Korea, as the South’s prime minister visited the flash point area.
A portion of the $1 billion cost of the expanded system in Alaska will come from scrapping the final phase of a missile defense system the U.S. is building in Europe, Hagel said. The system in Europe is aimed mainly at defending against a missile threat from Iran; key elements of that system are already in place.
The decision to drop the planned expansion in Europe happens to coincide with President Barack Obama’s announced intention to engage Russia in talks about further reducing each country’s nuclear weapons arsenal.
Tom Collina, research director at the Arms Control Association, said the Russians may be more willing to talk about nuclear arms reductions now that the Obama administration has decided not to go forward with the final phase of its European missile defense system.
Hagel cited three recent developments in North Korea that prompted the Obama administration to act, including a nuclear test in February deemed reckless by Washington and condemned by the U.N. Security Council.
Hagel also cited Pyongyang’s launch in December of a rocket that put a satellite into space and demonstrated mastery of some of the technologies needed to produce a long-range nuclear missile.
The U.S. missile defense system has a spotty test record and has never been used in actual combat. In addition to the 26 interceptors in Alaska, the system includes four interceptors in California.