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US prepares for North Korea standoff by testing missile defense system in Alaska

Published Jul 11th, 2017 3:44PM EDT
Image: Ralph Scott / US Missile Defense Agency

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It appears the United States military isn’t taking any chances when it comes to the growing threat of unpredictable actions from North Korea and the US Missile Defense Agency just demonstrated a proactive approach by testing its Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system (or THAAD for short) in Alaska. The system successfully shot down a test projectile over the US state. However, the government is insisting that this demonstration has nothing to do with North Korea’s recent missile launches.

“I couldn’t be more proud of the government and contractor team who executed this flight test today,” MDA Director Lt. Gen. Sam Greaves noted in a release declaring the test a success. “This test further demonstrates the capabilities of the THAAD weapon system and its ability to intercept and destroy ballistic missile threats.”

The THAAD system is an advanced, multi-part missile defense and mitigation strategy which utilizes a ground-based radar to detect a projectile, determine its location and path, and then counter it with an interceptor which collides with, and destroys, the incoming threat before it has a chance to reach its target. THAAD is designed to work against ballistic missiles with short, medium, and intermediate range capabilities. It was designed and build by longtime defense contractor Lockheed Martin.

THAAD systems are versatile in that they can be deployed pretty much anywhere, with vehicle-based launchers and mobile radar that can be positioned wherever it is needed. That said, the decision to test it over Alaska — which is potentially within range of North Korean missile technology — seems to be a pretty clear warning to the troubled nation, even if the US government isn’t explicitly saying so.