HUNTSVILLE, Ala. — The new Missile Defense Agency Director, Air Force Lt. Gen. Samuel Greaves, said he is confident the United States is prepared and equipped to defend the homeland against a North Korean nuclear intercontinental ballistic missile threat.
When asked directly during a presentation at the Space and Missile Defense Symposium, Greaves said, “Yes, we believe that the currently deployed ballistic missile defense system can meet today’s threat.”
But, he added, the Missile Defense Agency is addressing the evolving threat or a more complex threat that could include several ICBMs or countermeasures or decoys by “diligently” pursuing capability to “mitigate” those threats.
Greaves said he wouldn’t say he was confident without a wealth of data backing it up. “We have done analysis, we have built the systems, we have done the modeling and simulation, and, oh, by the way, we have done the testing and we’ve done the testing in a rigorous manner, we’ve done it in a comprehensive manner. We’ve got the data to show it.”
The director told Defense News following his presentation that the MDA is following a timeline to develop and add capability to ensure the U.S. stays ahead of threats as they grow and evolve.
“That is what we have been working on for the past five or six years, that is what we are working on today, and that is what we will have in place,” he said.
North Korea has ramped up its missile testing exponentially since Kim Jong Un assumed power in the country. And as his testing increases in frequency and capability, the specter of war is looming over the Korean Peninsula.
Late last month, North Korea tested an ICBM which analysts say displayed, for the first time, capability to exceed 10,000 km in range, a distance that could reach San Diego but also New York.
Since that test, analysts have also reported that North Korea has successfully developed a nuclear warhead that can fit in a missile.
And North Korea’s rhetoric is also growing more bellicose, particularly Wednesday when the country threatened to nuke Guam.
One piece of data that is sparking increased confidence in the ability to defend against an ICBM attack was a monumental intercept test in May of the U.S.’s critical homeland defense system designed to defend against ICBMs from North Korea and Iran.
The test marks the first time the Ground-Based Midcourse Defense system has gone up against an ICBM-class target, although some previous tests have featured intermediate-range ballistic missile targets that have approached ICBM speeds.
And MDA has also seen successful tests – the most recent happening last month – of its Terminal High Altitude Area Defense System. A THAAD battery has been deployed to Guam since 2013 and another THAAD battery is being deployed to South Korea.
Jen Judson is the land warfare reporter for Defense News. She has covered defense in the Washington area for 10 years. She was previously a reporter at Politico and Inside Defense. She won the National Press Club's best analytical reporting award in 2014 and was named the Defense Media Awards' best young defense journalist in 2018.