Commander Expresses Optimism About Pacific Region Missile Defense
By Fred W. Baker III
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Mar. 8, 2007 Spurred by North Korean missile testing in 2006, the United States has made significant strides this year in upgrading its missile detection in the Pacific region, the top U.S. Pacific Command official said yesterday.
PACOM commander Navy Adm. William J. Fallon told the House Armed Services Committee that North Korea’s testing forced the command “to really pay attention to the details of what we might do if the North Koreans, for example, were successful in actually getting (a Taepo Dong missile) to actually function as we think it was designed.”
He said two failed North Korean Missile tests are encouraging, but U.S. leaders have got to assume that “sooner or later, they may figure out how to make (a missile) fly correctly.”
“What we discovered was that we needed to really refocus our attention to the pieces of the chain which we would be able to detect and do something with these missiles if they threatened the U.S. today,” Fallon said. “We’ve got to be prepared.”
North Korea does not currently have a missile that can reach the U.S., Fallon said, but does have the ability to launch short- and medium-range missiles that can cover the Korean Peninsula and reach Japan.
A combination of linked sensors has been put in place to detect missiles fired from North Korea in the direction of the U.S. The first sensor is an X-band radar deployed in northwestern Japan.
Also, U.S Navy ships equipped with the Aegis combat system, and integrated missile-guidance system, and Japanese naval ships, equipped with modified spy radar, are out in “significant” numbers in the Pacific Ocean, Fallon said.
Finally, a new sea-based X-band radar was deployed to a converted oil platform near the Aleutian Islands. This sensor is larger than the one in Japan and can detect and track missiles incoming to the U.S., Fallon said.
While the missile defense system still relies on overhead systems for the initial warning, the combination of the other sensors will pick up the missile and track it on the upside of its trajectory, Fallon said.
Ground based interceptors, as well as forward deployed newly modified standard missiles on U.S. Navy ships in the Pacific Ocean, would destroy any detected missile.
“These pieces, and the network that ties them together, are new this year. This is the first time we’ve actually had this system arrayed and tested, and we did it in real time during these (North Korean) missile shots in July,” Fallon said.
“I think we’ve made a lot of progress here,” he said.
Fallon was recently nominated to head U.S. Central Command, based in Florida.