Pentagon is confident it can stop North Korean ICBM

North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un (centre) celebrates the successful test-fire of the Hwasong-14.
North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un (centre) celebrates the successful test-fire of the Hwasong-14.PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON (AFP) – The Pentagon is confident it can protect the United States against an incoming North Korean rocket, an official said on Wednesday (July 5) following Pyongyang’s first successful test of an intercontinental ballistic missile.

Tuesday’s launch saw North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un fire a new type of missile from Panghyon aircraft plant, a site not previously associated with his missile program, Pentagon spokesman Navy Captain Jeff Davis said.

Though the Pentagon initially said the missile was intermediate in range, updated analysis later showed its range “likely” exceeded 5,500km, making it capable of reaching Alaska and so changing its designation to intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), Davis said.

In May, the US military launched a ground-based interceptor from Vandenberg Air Force Base that for the first time successfully hit an ICBM-type target.

“We do have confidence in our ability to defend against the limited threat, the nascent threat that is there,” Davis said, pointing to the missile defense system.

Davis slammed North Korea’s latest test for putting shipping, air traffic and even satellites at risk, though he said there was no known damage from the missile, whose re-entry vehicle that sits atop the rocket later splashed into Japan’s Exclusive Economic Zone.

The United States has layers of missile defence capabilities comprising several components designed to take down different types of missile at different phases of flight.

“We do have confidence in (our ballistic missile defense capability), that’s why we’ve developed it,” Davis said.

“We’ve sought from the beginning of developing this capability to be able to outpace the threat.”

He noted that North Korea is still a way off from developing a nuclear-tipped ICBM, saying that Pyongyang had yet to demonstrate a re-entry vehicle capable of being tactically deployed.

“But clearly they are working on it,” he said.