North Korea is developing nuclear weapons capable of hitting mainland America. Can anti-missile systems protect us? Here’s everything you need to know:
How big a threat is North Korea to the U.S.?
Experts believe that Pyongyang currently has only short- and medium-range ballistic missiles, which puts South Korea and Japan in its crosshairs. To help defend our allies, the Pentagon recently deployed a $1 billion Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system (THAAD) to South Korea. Fired from truck-mounted launchers, THAAD’s interceptor missiles have a range of 125 miles and are designed to destroy short- and medium-range ballistic missiles as they descend to earth. The interceptors use infrared technology to locate their target and smash into it head-on, completely obliterating it. The Navy also has warships in the Pacific equipped with Aegis weapons systems that can fire interceptors at short- and medium-range ballistic missiles. But both of those systems are largely ineffective against intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), which fly at higher altitudes and faster speeds. And by 2020, military experts believe, North Korea will be able to build nuclear-tipped ICBMs capable of hitting the U.S. West Coast. “All the indications are that we have to be prepared to defend the homeland,” Adm. Samuel J. Locklear III, then head of the U.S. Pacific Command, told Congress in 2015.