The recent U.N. Security Council resolution condemning North Korea’s May 25 nuclear test and authorizing unified international action to stem Pyongyang’s arms and missile proliferation has affected the regime, he said.
Additionally, North Korea has said that any attempt to interdict its ships, an action authorized in a limited way by the U.N. resolution, would be regarded as an act of war.
“We’ve all been watching the North Korean ship that was headed south, and it continues to be one in a number of ways the North Korean leadership seems to try get attention and create an effect,” Gen. Renuart said.
The North Korean ship, Kang Nam 1, was being tracked with a suspected weapons-related shipment to Myanmar, but a defense official said Wednesday the latest reports indicate the ship had turned away from its planned route.
Asked the threshold for a U.S. military missile-defense strike on the North Korean missile, Gen. Renuart said, “We will not intercept something that is not a threat to North America or U.S. land space in Hawaii.”
If the missile falls harmlessly in the ocean, there is no reason to conduct an attempted intercept using regional or strategic interceptors, he said.
“The system is designed to tell us, A, where it’s coming from, and roughly where it’s going,” he said. “And if that where-it’s-going piece begins to threaten U.S. land mass, whether we know it’s a live or training [warhead], the system will allow us to engage it.
“Prudence will dictate that, even if the warhead configuration of the missile is not a real warhead,” Gen. Renuart said, “It’s hard to allow that to threaten our territory without doing something about it. It would be hard to tell the American people we didn’t do anything.”
The current system is “up and ready” for any North Korean launch, he said.
However, a U.S. defense official said it is unlikely that the Taepodong-2 being monitored at a North Korean launch site will be ready for launch by July 4. The liquid-fueled missile takes days to prepare for launch, including the loading of large amounts of liquid rocket fuel. The official spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the information.
The North Koreans could launch short- or medium-range missiles around the July Fourth holiday, however, the official said.
Press reports from South Korea and Japan recently stated that North Korea planned to launch the Taepodong-2 toward Hawaii, but U.S. defense officials said the direction of the shot will not be determined until shortly after launch.
The National Air and Space Intelligence Center, in its latest report on missile threats made public in May, lists the single-warhead Taepodong-2 as having a range greater than 3,400 miles.
“The missile can hit Hawaii and Alaska, and it may be able to reach the western continental United States with a lighter, chemical warhead,” said Richard Fisher, a specialist on missiles with the private International Assessment and Strategy Center.
Gen. Renuart said a large sea-based X-band radar, a very high-powered radar system used to track and target missiles, has sailed from Hawaii in preparation for the test.