HUNTSVILLE, Ala. -- North Korea and Iran are stepping up their progress in missile technology, said Missile Defense Agency Director Vice Adm. James Syring, laying out the current ballistic missile threat picture to the US.
North Korea has conducted test launches "more times in this calendar year, and it's only August, than they have in any other calendar year," Syring said at the Space and Missile Defense Symposium Wednesday.
The US has observed North Korea conducting six Musudan intermediate-range ballistic missile launches in particular, with two occurring on June 21 alone, according to Syring. One of those missiles reached a significant altitude of 1,000 km and traveled 400 km downrange.
"This was different than the past," Syring said. "I've always said in the past that North Korea hadn't tested a Musudan yet, but now they have and in my opinion the game has been escalated."
Coupled with North Korea's four nuclear capability tests with the most recent one occurring in January "and now you begin to understand the foundation for the decision that we made as a country … to deploy a [Terminal High Altitude Area Defense] THAAD system to the [Korean Peninsula]," Syring said.
There is already a THAAD battery deployed in Guam to defend against possible attacks from North Korea. The THAAD deployment to South Korea is more controversial as China has opposed the move. The US has fought to assure China that THAAD will be deployed to protect South Korea from North Korean threats. North Korea has also threatened a nuclear attack on South Korea if THAAD is deployed.
North Korea also continues to display and change its road-mobile intercontinental ballistic missile capability. "They were successful in demonstrating staging of the Taepo Dong 2 space-launch vehicle launch in February," Syring said. "One has to believe that that technology that was demonstrated will transition to their longer range ICBM development."
Another game changer, Syring added, is North Korea's demonstration of successfully ejecting a submarine-launched ballistic missile in April. "Getting that out of a submarine is very difficult," he said.
Iran also continues to test "in numbers and increase of capability," evolving its Shahab-3 medium-range ballistic missile with the capability of traveling up 2,000 km, to the Emad missile, which improves the precision and accuracy of the weapon, Syring noted. And the Simorgh Space Launch Vehicle could be a testbed for ICBM technologies.
Lastly, Iran and North Korea continue to increase capability with anti-ship ballistic missiles. Syring said everything the US is doing with Aegis ballistic missile defense and the Sea-based Terminal "is paramount to being ready to defeat that threat."
Jen Judson is an award-winning journalist covering land warfare for Defense News. She has also worked for Politico and Inside Defense. She holds a Master of Science in journalism from Boston University and a Bachelor of Arts from Kenyon College.