If North Korea follows through on its threat to fire ballistic missiles near Guam, the U.S. military probably will try to shoot them down, raising the stakes even further in a dangerous global standoff.
U.S. commanders would have little time to make a critical decision about whether any inbound missiles represented a threat to Guam, home to two large military bases and about 7,000 U.S. service members.
A ballistic missile would take only about 14 minutes to reach Guam from North Korea, according to Guam’s Homeland Security office.
U.S. surveillance, including spy satellites, also watch North Korea’s preparations before a missile launch, giving U.S. authorities a little additional time to assess the threat.
The Pentagon would probably view any missiles heading near Guam as a threat and try to shoot them down, analysts said.
“We would have to take proper self-defense measures,” said David Maxwell, a retired Army colonel and associate director of Georgetown University’s Center for Security Studies. “We would not want to take a chance to allow it to hit.”
U.S. commanders would not want to take a chance on whether the missile was carrying a warhead or was accurate enough to land in the water as intended.
North Korea said Thursday it was developing plans to launch four medium-range ballistic missiles that would land 19 to 25 miles from the western Pacific island.
The warning came amid heightened tensions between the United States and North Korea over its nuclear weapons program. President Trump said Tuesday the U.S. would respond to threats from North Korea with “fire and fury like the world has never seen.”
The U.S. military regularly tracks North Korea’s missile launches, but does not intercept them once it determines they are not on a course to hit U.S. territory or an ally, such as Japan or South Korea.
In 2013, the U.S. military deployed a missile defense system called Terminal High Altitude Area Defense, or THAAD, to Guam in response to previous threats by North Korea. The system is also being deployed in South Korea.
THAAD is designed to destroy incoming missiles during the final phase of their flight toward their target. The Missile Defense Agency said the system has demonstrated its effectiveness in 15 consecutive successful tests.
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