US Can Intercept North Korean Missiles, General Says

The head of the Pentagon's missile defense agency on Wednesday said recent missile intercept tests give him confidence the U.S. can protect itself from wide variety of threats, including an intercontinental ballistic missile from North Korea.

When asked directly about North Korea during the Space and Missile Defense Symposium in Huntsville, Alabama, Air Force Lt. Gen. Samuel Greaves said, "We believe that the currently deployed ballistic missile defense system can meet today's threat."

Greaves' comments came a day after The Washington Post reported North Korea has successfully miniaturized a nuclear warhead to fit atop its ICBM, called the Hwasong 14, according to the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency.

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"The missile defense agency has always and will continue to test in a robust fashion … in a manner that addresses the threat as we understand it today and into the future," he told audience members at the symposium.

Greaves highlighted the first successful intercept test conducted in May, in which the U.S. ground-based intercept system intercepted an ICBM. While officials at the time said the test had been planned, it came days after North Korea launched its ninth missile test this year.

"These tests are not staged, they're not crafted for success. They stress the systems; we learn from every single test, and bottom line ... the nation should be very confident that we have demonstrated the ability to defend against the range of threats that we are seeing today all the way from the short-range ballistic missiles ... medium-range … to the ICBM," he said.

Greaves outlined four priorities of missile defense. Reiterating Gen. John Hyten, commander of U.S. Strategic Command, who spoke at the symposium Tuesday, Greaves said, "We are focused on the adversary, not the domain."

First, Greaves said it is essential "that the defense of our nation is focused on the adversary," meaning focusing less on domains where an adversary can operate, such as the space or cyber realms, and directly on the threat itself.

"We will deter. We will deter an adversary. You've got to realize that there's no such thing as war in space, there's just war," Hyten said. "There's no such thing as a war in cyberspace. There's just war. We have to figure out how to defeat our adversaries, not to defeat the domains that they operate in."

Greaves said his second priority is that the "missile defense agency and industry partners are not afraid to fail. When we fail, it will be because of a good reason, not because we weren't prepared for a test or capability."

In June, a medium-range ballistic missile was launched from a test range in Hawaii and was to be intercepted by a SM-3 interceptor missile launched from the Navy's USS John Paul Jones, a guided-missile destroyer. The agency said the interceptor missed its target.

Defense News reported at the time that a sailor, as a tactical datalink controller, misidentified the incoming target as a "friendly," causing the SM-3 to self-implode in flight.

The third priority, Greaves said, is to conduct missile defense testing as often "as we can within the budgetary constraints."

"It is important that we test and demonstrate visibly the capabilities that we're deploying to the field," he said.

Lastly, Greaves said he and Hyten have often discussed "going fast" in the acquisition strategy process, and making it more "responsive to the need."

"The threat has voted, the threat continues to vote, and it is our responsibility to ensure we're doing everything that we can both from the government side and the industry side … as quickly as we can," he said.  

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