WASHINGTON (Yonhap) ― The Pentagon is planning to conduct a “very realistic” test this month of its new major missile defense system aimed at countering growing threats from North Korea, a senior official said Wednesday.
“It is very operational and realistic in terms of a threat that we may face from North Korea,” Vice Adm. James Syring, head of the Missile Defense Agency, said at a Senate hearing. “We are testing at thousands of kilometers at very high intercepted velocities, very, very similar to what we would experience with a threat ICBM from North Korea.”
He was referring to an upcoming test launch of the Ground-Based Midcourse Defense interceptor.
While the exact date of the test has not been announced, it comes amid a controversy over the effectiveness of the equipment after a failed test last year.
The new test would affect when the Pentagon will deploy 14 more ground-based interceptors.
The Pentagon official emphasized that the threat North Korea poses is “very real,” as shown in its test launch of two medium-range ballistic missile in March and display of what are seen as longer-range ones during a military parade in Pyongyang.
He said that is a reason why the U.S. military needs a new long-range discrimination radar.
“The importance of the radar is that it provides us that needed discrimination capability against a threat from North Korea, as they continue to progress and add decoys and countermeasures,” he said.
His agency reportedly hopes to have the radar operational in Alaska by 2020.
Meanwhile, he did not answer a question about the possibility of the U.S. deploying a Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense battery to South Korea.
U.S. officials seem to have begun to consider sending a THAAD battery there. The best scenario for them is for Seoul to purchase the costly, advanced system.
But South Korea made clear that it has no plans to buy it, expressing more interest in developing its own system to shoot down short-, intermediate- and long-range ballistic missiles at higher altitudes.
Officials in Seoul are apparently concerned about the fallout from formally joining the U.S.-led regional missile defense networks. It would not only spark political backlash at home but also antagonize a neighboring power, China.
A Pentagon official said the U.S. understands that THAAD is not a must for the defense of its territory.
“But it would obviously help the defense of the United States.
An alliance requires reciprocity,” the official said on the condition of anonymity.