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Corker Praises Missile Defense Upgrade on U.S. West Coast

This picture taken by North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency on March 11, 2013 shows North Korean leader Kim Jong Un (C) visiting the Wolnae Islet Defence Detachment in North Korea's western sector near the disputed maritime frontier with South Korea. Source: KCNA via KNS/AFP via Getty Images
This picture taken by North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency on March 11, 2013 shows North Korean leader Kim Jong Un (C) visiting the Wolnae Islet Defence Detachment in North Korea's western sector near the disputed maritime frontier with South Korea. Source: KCNA via KNS/AFP via Getty Images

March 18 (Bloomberg) -- The U.S. is taking needed “precautionary” steps to bolster its missile defense system on the West Coast because of recent threats by North Korea, said Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee, the top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

“I don’t think they have the delivery mechanisms that are necessary to really harm us, but I think it’s really good that we’re taking those precautionary measures to make sure that they cannot do damage,” Corker said yesterday on the “Fox News Sunday” program.

The U.S. is acting to “stay ahead of the threat” posed by North Korea, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said on March 15. Among the steps being taken, he said, is the addition of 14 interceptors based in Alaska to the country’s missile defense system by fiscal year 2017.

The U.S. has to take the threats from North Korea and its young leader, Kim Jong Un, seriously, said Representative Mike Rogers, the chairman of the House Permanent Select Intelligence Committee, on CNN’s “State of the Union” program. Kim took over as the country’s leader upon the death of his father, Kim Jong Il, in December 2011.

“You have a 28-year-old leader who is trying to prove himself to the military, and the military eager to have saber-rattling for their own self-interest,” said Rogers, a Michigan Republican. “And the combination of that is proving to be very, very deadly.”

‘All-Out War’

Tensions on the Korean peninsula are at their highest since at least 2010, with North Korea threatening nuclear strikes and withdrawing from the 1953 armistice ending the Korean War. Earlier this month, after the United Nations imposed additional sanctions on Pyongyang following a nuclear test, Kim said that his military was ready for “all-out war” and that the country would “reinforce as a nuclear weapons state,” according to the Pyongyang-based Korean Central News Agency.

The North Korean threat of a nuclear attack against the U.S. “is problem enough,” Rogers said. Add to that “their military maneuvers along the DMZ, the Demilitarized Zone, in North Korea,” and that creates “a whole new set of problems for us,” he said, noting that North Korea has “the largest military in the world still in uniform.”

Missile Defense Shift

Hagel told reporters last week that the U.S. is shifting money from a Europe-based system to pay for the new U.S. West Coast-based interceptors and the development of an advanced warhead.

While Corker expressed some concern about what he called the “non-deployment” of the fourth phase of the Europe-based system, he said that “most all of us applaud the efforts to beef up our missile defense on the West Coast.”

The ground-based system has interceptors built by Orbital Sciences Corp. topped by hit-to-kill warheads from Raytheon Co. Boeing Co. manages the $34 billion system that now has 26 interceptors at Fort Greely, Alaska, and four at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.

Since the Pentagon’s Missile Defense Agency began testing the U.S.-based anti-missile system in 1999, the interceptors have hit dummy targets on only half of the 16 tests that have been performed.

The last successful hit against a target was in December 2008. A test to intercept a target is scheduled for later this year to confirm that the guidance flaw has been remedied.

To contact the reporters on this story: Leslie Hoffecker in Washington at lhoffecker@bloomberg.net; Phil Mattingly in Washington at pmattingly@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Ann Hughey at ahughey@bloomberg.net

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