WASHINGTON — The United States has deployed naval ships equipped with ballistic missile defenses and is monitoring North Korea “very closely” ahead of an anticipated rocket launch, the head of U.S. Pacific Command said Dec. 6.
It was “logical” that U.S. naval ships in the region would be employed to track North Korea’s launch and “to the degree that those ships are capable of participating in ballistic missile defense, then we’ll position them to be able to do that,” Adm. Samuel Locklear told reporters at a Pentagon news conference.
The U.S. Navy took a similar approach “the last time they had (a launch),” Locklear said.
Two guided missile destroyers, the Benfold and the Fitzgerald, had been sent to the area ahead of the launch, CNN reported.
American naval ships had been sent to the region “so we understand if they do violate the U.N. Security Council (resolution) and launch a missile, what kind is it? What is it about? Where does it go? Who’s threatened?” he said.
The admiral added that U.S. forces would also be tracking any stray parts that might fall from the rocket.
Pyongyang has announced it will conduct between Dec. 10 and 22 its second long-range rocket launch this year, after a much-hyped but failed attempt in April.
The North says it will be a purely “peaceful, scientific” mission aimed at placing an Earth observation satellite into orbit.
The United States and its allies insist the launches are disguised tests for an inter-continental ballistic missile capable of carrying a nuclear warhead.
Locklear said North Korea has steadily improved its missile technology, but it was unclear if the test this month would be successful.
“I think they have progressively gained better technology over time through a number of methods, a number of years and decades.
“To the degree that they would be more successful than they were last time in such a short period of time and what they’ve done to correct it, I can’t tell you.”