The US agency tasked with protecting the country from missile attacks is scouting the west coast for places to deploy new anti-missile defenses, two members of the US Congress said on Saturday, as North Korea’s missile tests raise concerns about how the US would defend itself from an attack.
West coast defenses would likely include Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) anti-ballistic missiles, similar to those deployed in South Korea to protect against a potential North Korean attack.
The accelerated pace of North Korea’s ballistic missile testing program this year and the likelihood the North Korean military could hit the US mainland with a nuclear payload in the next few years has raised the pressure on the US government to build-up missile defenses.
North Korea on Wednesday tested a new type of intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) that can fly more than 13,000km, placing Washington within target range, South Korea said on Friday.
US Representative Mike Rogers, who sits on the US House of Representatives Armed Services Committee and chairs the Strategic Forces Subcommittee, which oversees missile defense, said the Missile Defense Agency (MDA) a Department of Defense agency was aiming to install extra defenses at west coast sites.
The funding for the system does not appear in next year’s defense budget plan indicating potential deployment is further off.
“It’s just a matter of the location, and the MDA making a recommendation as to which site meets their criteria for location, but also the environmental impact,” the Republican lawmaker said during an interview on the sidelines of the annual Reagan National Defense Forum in southern California.
When asked about the plan, MDA Deputy Director Rear Admiral Jon Hill said in a statement: “The Missile Defense Agency has received no tasking to site the Terminal High Altitude Air Defense System on the west coast.”
Rogers did not reveal the exact locations the agency is considering, but said several sites are “competing” for the missile defense installations.
Rogers and US Representative Adam Smith, a Democrat, said the government was considering installing the THAAD anti-missile system made by Lockheed Martin Corp at west coast sites.
They said the number of sites that may ultimately be deployed had yet to be determined.
THAAD is a ground-based regional missile defense system designed to shoot down short-, medium and intermediate-range ballistic missiles and takes only a matter of weeks to install.
In addition to the two THAAD systems deployed in South Korea and Guam, the US has seven other THAAD systems. While some of the existing missiles are based in Fort Bliss, Texas, the system is highly mobile and current locations are not disclosed.
A Lockheed Martin representative declined to comment on specific THAAD deployments, but added that the company “is ready to support the Missile Defense Agency and the United States government in their ballistic missile defense efforts.”
Currently, the continental US is primarily shielded by the Ground-based Midcourse Defense system (GMD) in Alaska and California, as well as the Aegis system deployed aboard US Navy ships.
The THAAD system has a far higher testing success rate than the GMD.
The MDA told Congress in June that it planned to deliver 52 more THAAD interceptors to the US Army between October this year and September next year, bringing total deliveries since May 2011 to 210.
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