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U.S. is prepared for missile shot


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POSTED: Saturday, June 20, 2009

WASHINGTON » A new anti-missile system ordered for Hawaii is partly a strategy to deter North Korea from test-firing a long-range missile across the Pacific and partly a precaution against the unpredictable regime, military officials said yesterday.

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The United States has no indication that North Korean missile technology has improved markedly since past failed launches, and military and other assessments suggest the communist nation probably could not hit the westernmost U.S. state if it tried, officials said.

The North's Taepodong-2 could travel that far in theory, if it works as designed. But three test launches have either failed or not demonstrated anything close to that range.

Nonetheless, past failure should not be considered a predictor, one military official said, and the seaborne radar and land-based interceptors were added this week as a prudent backstop.

Military and other U.S. officials spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the U.S. response a day after Defense Secretary Robert Gates said he is concerned about the potential for a North Korean missile launch toward Hawaii.

Japanese media have reported the North Koreans appear to be preparing for a long-range test near July 4. The Daily Yomiuri reported that Japan's Defense Ministry believes a long-range missile was delivered to the new Dongchang-ni launch site on North Korea's west coast on May 30.

U.S. analysts say that after the last test fizzled, the North wants to prove its missile capability both as proof of military strength and as a sales tool for its lucrative overseas weapons deals.

A U.S. counterproliferation official said the U.S. government is not currently seeing preparations for launch of a long-range Taepodong-2 missile, sometimes short-handed as a TD-2.

“;I don't see any evidence that Hawaii is in more danger now than before the last TD-2 launch,”; said Jeffrey Lewis, director of the Nuclear Strategy and Nonproliferation Initiative at the New America Foundation.