- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 2, 2009

COLORADO SPRINGS | U.S. missile defenses are prepared to try to knock down the last stage of a Taepodong-2 missile that North Korea is expected soon to launch if sensors detect the weapon threatens U.S. territory, the commander of the U.S. Northern Command told The Washington Times.

“The nation has a very, very credible ballistic-missile defense capability. Our ground-based interceptors in Alaska and California, I’m very comfortable, give me a capability that if we really are threatened by a long-range ICBM that I’ve got high confidence that I could interdict that flight before it caused huge damage to any U.S. territory,” said Air Force Gen. Victor E. “Gene” Renuart, Northcom commander.

The general said the United States won’t activate its missile defenses if the North Korean missile appears it will fall safely into the water as the country’s last test missile did.

(Corrected paragraph:) Asked if North Korea is likely to conduct a July 4 Taepodong-2 test, as occurred in 2006, Gen. Renuart said in an interview this week with The Times at Northern Command headquarters at Peterson Air Force Base, “I think we ought to assume there might be one on the first of July and continue to be prepared and ready.”

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Gen. Renuart, who is commander of the military’s first combatant command devoted to defending against threats to U.S. territory, is also the commander of the U.S.-Canada North American Aerospace Defense Command, or NORAD, which monitors missile launches around the world and also foreign military aircraft intrusions of U.S. air space. Since Sept. 11, 2001, NORAD is also in charge of tracking civilian aircraft to be ready to respond to a terrorist hijacking.

Gen. Renuart said North Korea’s leaders are unpredictable and their “decision logic does not always follow in the same vein as ours does.”

The four-star commander said that in addition to long-range interceptors, U.S. missile defenses in the Asia Pacific region include U.S. ground- and sea-based defense systems.

They include ground-based Patriot anti-missile defenses deployed in South Korea, and U.S. Navy Aegis system missile-defense ships deployed to waters near Japan. Recently, the Pentagon also activated units of the Army’s new Theater High-Altitude Area Defenses that were undergoing testing in Hawaii, in response to indications that North Korea is set to fire a Taepodong-2.

The regional defenses augment the long-range interceptors based at two sites, one in Alaska and one in California, Gen. Renuart said.

The Pacific Command missile defenses provide “a pretty well-integrated ground-based theater defense capability,” he said.

“I think we are certainly ready and capable of responding,” Gen. Renuart said.

The wild card in any future North Korean missile test remains the many unknowns about the regime in Pyongyang and whether it will attempt the test or irrationally fire a warhead toward Hawaii, he said.

“In terms of what North Korea’s decision process may be, or their logic, you got a Ph.D. in intentions, and you probably can’t figure that out,” Gen. Renuart said.

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