Missile chief unconcerned

WASHINGTON – The Pentagon’s missile defense chief predicted Friday that interceptor rockets would hit and destroy a North Korean missile in flight if President Bush gave the order to attack it on a path to U.S. territory.

Air Force Lt. Gen. Henry Obering, director of the Missile Defense Agency, said he has little doubt that the interceptor system would work, even though it has never been used in a real emergency and even though the U.S. government knows relatively little about how the North Korean missile would perform.

Obering refused to say whether the U.S. missile defense system is ready now for a possible intercept mission, but noted that it has been designed specifically to defend U.S. territory against known missile threats from North Korea.

“(From) what I have seen and what I know about the system and its capabilities, I am very confident,” he said when asked about the likelihood that one of the 11 missile interceptors based in Alaska and California would succeed against North Korea’s long-range Taepodong-2 missile.

U.S. officials and private experts say they are uncertain of the North Koreans’ motives for apparently preparing to launch a Taepodong-2, which U.S. officials believe has a range of between 5,000 miles and 7,500 miles. They may be planning a test flight of the missile to verify its design and gain other technical data for further improvements to the system, or they may use the missile to try to thrust a satellite into orbit.

There is no expectation that the missile would be launched as a deliberate attack on the United States, but without knowing for sure in advance, the Pentagon has been considering the circumstances under which it would try a mid-flight intercept, on Bush’s order.

Associated Press

A satellite image taken in 2000 purportedly shows the Taepodong Launch Complex in North Korea. Preparations for a missile launch apparently are under way at the facility, U.S. military officials say.

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