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Winnefeld Warns of ‘Overwhelming Response’ to Missile Strikes

By Nick Simeone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, May 28, 2014 – Iran and North Korea, considered by the United States to be the chief nuclear and missile threats to the nation, know they would face “an overwhelming U.S. response to any attack” on the United States or its allies, the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said today.

Successive U.S. administrations have consistently said that all options remain on the table should either nation deploy or use a nuclear weapon, but Navy Adm. James A. Winnefeld Jr. used strong language in remarks to a missile defense conference here.

“We have to take that threat seriously, even though neither nation yet has a mature capability,” he said.

A robust and capable missile defense, Winnefeld said, is the best way to defend the nation from such an attack, and should remain the nation’s top missile defense priority.

“The enemy knows there will be a significant price to pay with a missile launch against the United States,” the vice chairman said. “This is about ensuring we can deny the objectives of any insecure authoritarian state that believes acquisition of deliverable weapons of mass destruction is key to the preservation of its regime.”

The admiral identified North Korea, followed by Iran, as the chief threats to the United States, given both countries’ nuclear and ballistic missile programs.

Winnefeld described North Korea as being closer than any other American adversary to being able to reach such a threshold, even though U.S. officials to date have not seen the North test a missile capable of reaching the U.S. homeland. But “that could happen suddenly,” Winnefeld said, with the United States on alert with ground-based interceptors intended to take out an incoming warhead as part of nation’s expanding missile defense system.

“We’re not betting on Dennis Rodman as our deterrent against a future North Korean ICBM threat,” the vice chairman said, a reference to the several private trips the former professional basketball player has made to Pyongyang and his expressions of friendship with leader Kim Jong Un.

As part of the U.S. response to the most recent provocations from the North, Winnefeld told American Forces Press Service, the United States has conducted a site survey in South Korea with the goal of being prepared to quickly deploy a Terminal High Altitude Air Defense System battery to the peninsula to defend the U.S. treaty ally should the need arise.

The THADD system is capable of shooting down short-, medium- and intermediate-range ballistic missiles in their terminal phase. Its interceptors use a “hit-to-kill approach,” relying on the kinetic energy of the impact to destroy the incoming missile.

Last year, such a system was deployed to Guam as a precautionary move to protect American interests there.

Countering threats posed by North Korea will be among the topics discussed when Asian defense chiefs, along with Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, meet in Singapore beginning May 20 for the annual Shangri-La Dialogue Asia Security Summit.

(Follow Nick Simeone on Twitter: @simeoneAFPS)


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Navy Adm. James A. Winnefeld Jr.

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